There was a time when we depended on little green men from Mars for a world-view. After Mars probes debunked them, we now have ETs - computerised caricatures of ourselves. If these voyagers from outer space are as perceptive as Martians were, they too must marvel that as a species we call ourselves Homo sapiens - homo: men, and sapiens: wise. The truth is we are very close to primates and a tiny shift in their genetic make-up would oblige us to offer chimps seats at the UNO. Homo sapiens thinks that intelligence is the natural culmination of the evolutionary process. Yet so manic is he in his passions and beliefs that at the top of the ladder we all jostle for space with eminent monsters like Caligula, Nero, Hitler and Mussolini.
A lunatic irrational streak runs through entire cultures, shaping mores and moral values. Consider just two aspects of humankind which ought to afford us most joy - sex and food. The apes take both where they can find it without any drastic consequences. But humans, with their super-intelligence, have devised complex systems of morality around both systems which clearly indicate where we can end up in the afterworld if we fail to measure up. It is possible, in some religions, for the pious to earn “salvation” for their souls by never ingesting taboo foods, never indulging in taboo sex, never committing strange crimes like “blasphemy” and “sacrilege”, yet never doing a single deed of kindness to their fellowmen.
|An erotic sculpture in Khajuraho|
Since ETs traverse space we might assume they know its layout and can locate that Never-Never land all good people set their hearts on. Our icons and paintings, assuming the world is flat, depict it as a place directly “above” which can be reached by chariots drawn by fiery horses, ladders and stairways. However, even astronauts know that in space there is no Up nor Down. There is only outwards or Inwards. It is unlikely that ETs have ever happened upon massed choirs of sexless winged creatures playing harps, or fabulous gardens and orchards with streams, along with beautiful women waiting to serve the deserving. Yet so strong a hold do these myths have on earthlings that all their actions are influenced by other-worldly considerations.
How is it that Homo sapiens, who so arrogantly squanders his environmental inheritance in the belief that he is lord of creation, should in his turn think it necessary to grovel before the gods? Desmond Morris, behavioural scientist, believes that the whole idea of an afterlife is a defence mechanism against extinction. As self-conscious beings we cannot visualise our own deaths. So we find it immensely comforting to believe that a part of us - the soul - survives into another world, or returns again to subsequent existences. From the impulse for self-preservation, humans see God as a super-parent and his priests as super-leaders directing us in the paths of righteousness. “A God that offers an afterlife in another world, that protects his ‘children’ regardless of their age, and that offers them devotion to a grand cause of a socially unifying purpose, triggers off powerful reactions in the human animal” (Manwatching).
Apes might consider themselves fortunate in not having evolved to such profundity. Sexually, they are beasts. Human primates are self-aware and know what modesty is. Their sexuality is of immense social significance to them. Regrettably, most religious cultures of today lay greater emphasis on anti-sex elements in their morality. Pro-sex cultures are denounced as decadent and sinful.
|Adam and Eve|
Eunuch cults were widespread in the Middle East and
Asia long before
Christianity. The Mahabharata mentions the eunuch Sikhandi. Indian Hijras claim
that Arjun and Bhishma were also eunuchs. Pagan worshippers of Cybele held
rites in which novices were initiated. They went into frenzied dancing, slashed
off their genitals and hurled them at a statue of the goddess. They were easily
recognizable in the streets of Rome
dressed as women, wearing their perfumed hair long and dancing to the
accompaniment of flutes, cymbals, tambourines and castanets.
|Bahuchara Mata: Patroness of the Hijra community|
India eunuchs once held high office
as confidantes and spies for rulers. Today the Hindu and Muslim cults have
combined and members of both religions live together in families. Their patron
goddess goes by different names in various temples around the country. While
there are natural hermaphrodites among them, the majority have chosen emasculation
for other-worldly reasons. Impotent males sacrifice their sex to Bahuchara Mata
to be assured of virility in the next seven existences. Others, though potent,
say the shadow of the goddess fell upon them. All look for reward in the
The Skoptsi Christian sect in
following the verse in Mathew's gospel, emasculated themselves down to the
18th and 19th centuries. Young male singers in the Vatican
choir chose emasculation so that their voices remained a clear soprano in the
glory of God for the rest of their lives. The last castrato in the choir died
in 1903. From Church writings we know that eunuchs were ordained as bishops and
priests in the early church. Origen (185-254 AD), an eminent theologian,
emasculated himself. And Tertullian (160-220 AD) another Bible scholar wrote
that “the is thrown open
to all Eunuchs.” This worthy thinker also said of women: “Thou art the Devil's
gate!” With neutering so essential to a man's hope for Heaven it followed that
all women were a hindrance sent by Satan. kingdom
All religions claim their scriptures were written or revealed by amorphous Super-beings given different names and identities by each faith. Their preoccupation with human sexuality and the need to curb women is evident in the personal laws practised by all faiths today. It is therefore somewhat puzzling why the Creator located woman's centre of virtue not in her mind but in that part of her anatomy where it is most at risk - in a small triangular fold of tissue called the hymen. Its presence or absence in young unmarried females of the human species decided on whether they are upright, chaste and virtuous, or contemptible as “fallen women.” Virginity is a perilous condition and must be guarded jealously by the males in a family because their honour is bound into its presence, until such time as it is legitimately yielded up in marriage. Christian nuns are described as “brides of Christ” and they must be virgin to qualify for this status.
In 1985 a sensational news story appeared in our papers about how upper-class girls from rich families in the Middle East were being treated by
doctors before their forthcoming marriages to men of orthodox belief who placed
a high premium on virginity. Having lost their virginity through frivolous
misadventure, they were paying Rupees twenty thousand for hymenoplasty. Thus
have humans with their superior intelligence now been able to restore chastity
and good character in females through surgical means - though we cannot know if
this ensures them access to Heaven.
Christian theologians of medieval times conceded that while woman is totally evil, man is a “creation of the Devil only from the waist down.” The church therefore regulated all sexual activity for those who couldn't resist getting married thereby spoiling somewhat their chances of salvation. Abstention was mandatory on Thursdays (in memory of Christ's arrest), on Fridays (in memory of his death), on Saturdays (in honour of the Virgin Mary), on Sundays (because of the Resurrection), and on Mondays (to commemorate the dead.). This left just Tuesdays and Wednesdays for sex - unless the Church was observing the forty-day fast before Easter, or the feast of Pentecost and Christmas, or seven, five or three days before communion. A husband keen on achieving eternal life in the hereafter could consult this theological calendar if he wished to have sex with his wife - not for fun but for procreation.
Contraception was a sin, in case it made a woman think that she might possibly enjoy sex safely. Coitus interruptus and oral sex invited sentences from three to fifteen years. And those men who committed these "abomination joyfully" could be publicly whipped, put on fasts of bread and water for years, or have their bottoms exposed to public ridicu1e in the market-place.
|"The Anchorite" by Teodor Axentowicz.|
Women who yearned for Heaven had to cancel out their sexual selves by being rigorously filthy. One famous virgin, Sylvia, suffered extreme1y poor health by the age of sixty because she washed only the tip of her fingers. An anchorite in the desert believed he was having a vision of Satan himself when he saw a naked creature, black with filth, and white hair floating behind. It was the once beautiful St Mary of
Egypt who had
expiated for her sins for 47 years. Today pious women can achieve Heaven more
healthfully, but they must cover those parts of their anatomy which men have
decided are sinful by dressing in long garments and hiding their hair, going
clean-shaven or plucking it out one by one.
Western ascetism promoted celibacy for reward in Heaven. Eastern asceticism uses tapasya, rigorous piety and sexual abstinence to enhance a person's intellectual powers. It endows yogis with supernatural power over other humans and Nature. This sublimation of the sexual impulse has given rise to bizarre folklore in our country which would fill volumes. Hatha Yoga has the Vajroli Mudra which enables a man to suck mil, water and mercury through the penis. This mix taken in reverse makes a man immortal. Ancient texts say that those whose sperm travels upwards are like gods. Semen ejaculated into a woman and drawn back also ensures immortality. Women cannot perform these remarkable feats because they are defectively designed.
Celibacy in all Indian religions is seen as a pious necessity and many practitioners even screen themselves off from the sight of women. Asceticism has a long tradition in
India. Among the Jews the Essene
sect regarded sexualintercourse as impure and sinful. Some scholars believe
Christ was an Essene. Stoicism abhorred sex. St Paul preached celibacy (and possibly
emasculation) as the best way to Salvation. He found it regrettable that men
needed to marry at all. The neo-Platonists were as ascetic as the Christians,
and Manicheism, which saw good and evil as a conflict between darkness and
light, spread from Persia
to influence European thought. Manes (215-275 AD) preached strict asceticism,
including abstinence from all kinds of flesh. Even St Augustine was one of his followers.
Undoubtedly, the religious emphasis on celibacy, and the male chauvinism of the anti-sex element in the practice of piety, is largely responsible for the traditional denigration of women, with odium attached to their bodies.
Primitive superstition still survives in our personal laws which deny women sexual equality, control of their own fertility, the right to contraception, the right to join the priesthood, and all those laws binding marriage and divorce which victimize them.
If our simian cousins got a small hint of what awaits them were they to cross the small genetic divide that sets them apart from humans, they would not care to opt even for observer status at the United Nations. Being human is far too perilous a proposition.