The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
OTHER sects joined in the greatest rebellion of all—the revolt against man himself. Man's very instincts and all his institutions were to be up-rooted and destroyed with a vengeance. Any kingdom on earth was a stronghold against the kingdom of heaven. Destroy all kingdoms on earth, and the reign of heaven would be proclaimed.
These rebels no longer formed a departure from the church. They constituted neither a reform nor a schismatic movement. They were frankly a break with the established religion and a denial of all for which it stands. They threw overboard all dogmas. They refused all sacraments. They would have none of the priesthood. They recognized neither fatherland nor home ties. They disclaimed fraternal and paternal love. They treated all social institutions with contempt. In fact, everything that is proper and legitimate was in itself already sinful.
This tendency to deny human nature and self, to turn one's back on the world, savors of asceticism. And among the ascetics we find men torturing themselves in revolt against their bodies. For years, Simeon Stylites sat upon the top of a pillar, suffering the torture of exposure to the elements, in that cramped and precarious position. Pachomius, another ascetic, limited his sleep to one hour and subsisted on bread, water, and ashes. Saint Euphrasia
never bathed or changed her clothes. Saint Fidelis wore a shirt of hair and an iron girdle. Saint Francis never allowed his appetite to be completely satisfied; and once he commanded a fellow brother to drag him naked through the streets of Assisi in order to mortify his body. Still others contrived all imaginable devices to afflict themselves with physical pain and anguish in their attempt to subjugate the physical being to the spirituality of the soul.
The idea of physical torture was carried a step further by the flagellants, a sect that swept over all of Europe during the thirteenth century. It was headed by monks, most of whom exemplified their teachings in their own bodies. Saint Dominic in six days inflicted upon himself three hundred thousand strokes. The leaders of the flagellants claimed to have received letters from heaven, demanding that people punish themselves for the wickedness in the world by striking their bodies with thongs. These letters were said to threaten terrible punishments upon the whole earth, if the commands were not fulfilled.
So the followers of the new sect carried heavy leather scourges and lashed themselves until the blood streamed from their open wounds. Oftentimes, they joined in procession, marching through the streets, praying aloud, singing, and violently striking their bodies. As their blood thus shed would mingle with the blood of Christ upon the cross and purify their sinful souls, there was no need for the mediation of church or priest.
Although the principal idea of the sect was the same wherever it arose, the ways in which it developed varied from place to place. In Germany, certain conditions were laid down for admission. New members had to promise obedience to a leader and, if married men, they could not
join the sect without the approval of their wives. Once people had gained admission, they were forbidden sexual intercourse or any pleasure that savored of sensuality.
Another sect that made its appearance in Swabia, Germany, in the fifteenth century outstepped the flagellants, declaring: "It is permitted to lie; no faith need be held; no promise kept; murder should be committed, also upon the innocent, even upon one's own parents." But unlike the former sect, its members esteemed the sexual impulse in man. In sexuality, they saw the one great purpose of existence as well as its only source of happiness. In sexual promiscuity, they found the bridge into the Kingdom of God.
In Russia, the tendency to self-torture culminated in the practice of self-destruction. Man sought to wipe out, not only human nature, but his very existence. The call of the flesh must be mercilessly suppressed and life itself undermined and prevented from continuation upon earth. Marriage with its rank purpose of reproduction was, therefore, anathema to all sects in this great movement. It was their belief that God created man with the idea that he be celibate, and so he was until his fall. The ideal state, then, was that in which man had no relationship whatever with women. But as human nature is weak, compromises might be effected in which promiscuity was the chief condition, the other being that no offspring follow the promiscuous union.
In this respect, the Russians of the nineteenth century trod much the same path as did the Abelians in the early days of Christianity. They claimed that Abel, the elder son of Adam, lived in the marital state yet had no children, no mention of his offspring being found in the Bible.
[paragraph continues] Consequently, his followers took wives but had no children with them. So great was their fear of the sin of bringing progeny into the world that they abstained from normal sexual intercourse, looking upon it as the design of the devil. For was the world not created by the devil? Did not the anti-Christ rule over the earth? At any moment the bugle might sound, calling man and all creation together for the final judgment. How could it be right to bring children into the world, only to play them into the hands of the devil?
Curiously enough the Abelians adopted children and raised them in their community so that their sect might be continued. Among the Russian sects the faithful did not have to resort to adopting children. There were some members who consorted with their wives for the purpose of raising daughters, which was a much lesser sin than bringing sons into the world. Once a son came, the couple had to separate forever. The daughters were encouraged to enter into promiscuous unions as soon as age permitted. And there were still other sources of life to continue the great light of the sect. These were the births that came as a result of the orgies and promiscuous relationships that characterized the religious services. Here again, the females were preferred, the males being disposed of either by secret killing or outright murder, or by dedication to the priesthood through castration.
The purest form of self-destruction in religious worship was reached by the Skopzi, the "castrated ones." They called themselves the "White Doves," that is, the pure. Their theology is quite simple. They are not bound at
all by the Bible, as they consider it a falsification. The true scripture is the "Book of the Dove," which was found among them as far back as the time of Peter the Third, whom they called their Christ. According to this book, Adam and Eve sinned by entering into sexual relationship. Sexual union, then, is the original sin. Of the first human pair, new ones came into the world, and the sin is continued indefinitely. There is only one way to avoid this evil, and that is by destroying the potency of humans to mate and rear children.
According to the Skopzi, Jesus, the son of God, was supposed to bring to mankind salvation by castration. This mission he feebly attempted to fulfill, as is indicated by various passages in the New Testament. His purpose, however, was misunderstood. Instead of martyrdom by mutilation, he suffered death upon the cross. In consequence, he was only the forerunner of the second and even greater son of God, Szelivanov, the founder of their sect.
Szelivanov addressed himself at once to those phases of sex life upon which Jesus only lightly touched. He called attention to the same passages by which Origen, in the third century, had justified his self-mutilation. "If thy hand or thy foot offends thee cut them off and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire." What could be more "offensive" to the true Christian soul of Szelivanov than his organ of procreation?
The leader of the new sect found still other justification for the destruction of the procreative power in man. The blessedness of the state of purity is emphasized in this passage: "For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the paps that never gave suck." Again mutilation is justified: "For there be some eunuchs, which were so born from their mothers' womb, and there be 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." And Saint Paul exhorts his listeners to deny their flesh: "Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and covetousness which is idolatry."
Szelivanov baptized himself by fire, mutilating his body with a blazing iron. He baptized hundreds in the same way and worked untiringly to gain new converts. When the world contained one hundred and forty-four thousand Skopzi, the millennium would be at hand. At one time it appeared to be not far distant for the membership was rapidly increasing. Everyone was urged to secure new converts. He who brought in twelve mutilations was given the distinction of apostleship. In eastern Russia, entire communities went over to the Skopzi. One such mass conversion consisted of seventeen hundred souls. The missionaries worked among the beggars and other lowly elements of society, convincing them or bribing them to accept the new religion. Some were even forcibly mutilated. An appeal was also made to the curious, the adventurous element.
The very fact that there were wholesale conversions to the sect and that each convert was to be mutilated, made it quite impossible for these operations to be performed with that great care and precision required to insure their effectiveness. Some of the women had to be satisfied with mere incisions upon the breasts. Others, mutilated much more, still possessed the capacity and the desire for the sexual function. There were, therefore, among the Skopzi, women prostitutes, enriching the communal treasury with fees received from "gentiles," "uncastrated ones." Even men were not always entirely incapacitated, due largely to the fact that a good many of the converts performed the operation on themselves and halted in the process because of pain or fear. In fact, the Skopzi religion took cognizance of this condition by establishing two degrees of mutilations, those of the Greater Seal and those of the Lesser Seal. There were many Skopzi, then, in whose hearts still glowed the fire of passion and who were physically capable of satisfying their desires. They mingled with those who, although incapacitated, still exulted in witnessing the sexual activities of members of the Lesser Seal. As a result, we have the accounts of wild sexuality in the services of the sect and intense orgiastic rites.
The religious services of the Skopzi were secret affairs, and the traitor was certain of punishment by death. The congregation was called the "ship." All White Doves appeared in the ship in white shirts. The worship began about ten in the evening and lasted throughout the night. The males, seated upon chairs and benches began to sing, adding to the rhythm of the song by clapping their hands upon their thighs. Haxthausen, who was present at a Skopzi service, has given the text of one of their songs:
[paragraph continues] The women were at first mere observing listeners. But, after a while, the men stopped the song and the women continued it. As the singing went on and ever grew more fervent, the congregation fell into a dance, the "rapture," that culminated in wild leaping and whirling.
The effect of the dance seemed to be the same upon the mutilated people as upon the others. Everyone was brought into a trance of sensuous delight, a state of ecstasy. As a release for the aroused energies, Szelivanov suggested general kissing. Apparently, kissing was not sufficient release, and the congregation resorted to the sadistic and masochistic activities that characterized their orgiastic rites.
In their worship, they chose a Bogoroditza, a "mother of God," a maiden who was expected to give birth to the new Christ. She was usually only fifteen or sixteen years of age and a virgin. As she entered the meeting-place, she was greeted with the words: "Blessed art thou of all women, for thou shall give birth to the savior." She was then undressed and immersed in a tub of warm water. That her pain might be relieved, she was given an image
of the Holy Ghost to hold while the old women amputated her left breast. The bleeding virgin was then placed upon an altar, and an almost inhuman orgy followed. The amputated breast was hacked into tiny pieces and grabbed by the worshippers to be eaten while still warm.
Meanwhile, there was a struggle to approach the sacred bride and to kiss her everywhere. In this event, the lights were extinguished, and the worshippers joined in song, praying the Lord to give the virgin a Christ child. Almost invariably the "God Mother" was impregnated in the course of this orgy, and before the close of the year, she would report at the meeting-place with her child.
Even more gruesome were the rites that followed the advent of the Christ child. On the eighth day of the child's life, his left side was lanced by a finely pointed spear, and the warm blood that flowed from the wound in the infant body was drunk in the communion service. The body itself was dried and pounded into a powder. Out of this powder cakes of bread were prepared, to be offered the worshippers on the first day of the Easter season.
Having obstructed the avenues of new births and having murdered those offspring that did break into life, there was still a great dominating humanity, which by its very existence, bore witness to the surging living force about it. And there was only one other way in which rebellious man could defy the force of life and generation. It was by aiding death in its inroads upon this living mass, by cutting short as many lives as possible. A life lost was a life gained. God had left this world; man had to leave it, too, to join God. The Bible exhorts the true man of the faith not
to be worried over self-destruction, which to the Judaic Christian was the greatest of sins: "And fear not them that kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Living up to these tenets, various sects offered salvation by killing, either directly or indirectly, or by suicide, one might say communal suicide, in which the worshipper joined as a unit. Most of the modern sects of this nature are, or until very recently were, to be found in Russia. But the same tendencies were met with in olden times in India, throughout Asia, and among primitive peoples in many parts of the world.
Some of these sects still profess the Judaic Christian idea of the sanctity of life. They cannot quite break away from it. So to compromise, they claim that only those whose end is violent will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Once their end is induced violently, their place in heaven is assured. Such a sect made its appearance in Russia in the early nineties of the last century. Its members were called "under-the-floorists," because they conducted their services under the ground. Their greatest appeal was made to the poor, sick, and afflicted. These they baptized, gave new names and surnames, and designated as the "slaves of God." They were then put away in special caves underground and left there to die of starvation. Death was induced, rather than inflicted, by violence.
A degree closer to violence is the custom of an even mote recent Russian sect called Ticklers. In their services, the males tickled the females so long that the latter fell into swoons. And as it was believed that each death added to
the holiness of the service, no effort was exerted to revive the exhausted ones.
During the reign of Alexander II, in Russia, another such sect was founded by a man named Shodkin. He preached suicide by starvation, claiming that the anti-Christ was ruling the world and that the millennium was at hand. There was, then, only one means of salvation: to be buried in a cave in the woods and to await death by starvation. In shrouds, the prophet and his flock, including the women and children, entered the cave. Scattering sand over their heads and driving out the devil, they closed the opening. Suddenly two women, seized with terror at the thought of a slow death, broke through the opening and escaped. Chaos set in.
The prophet, fearing the hand of the police whom the escaped women might arouse to action, hastened to destroy the pious before they yielded to the temptation of the devil. "The hour of death has come; are you ready?" he asked his followers. "We are ready," was the reply. Forthwith the men attacked the children and killed them. Then they put an end to the women, finally turning upon themselves. When the police arrived, they had time only to save the prophet and two young men.
A large number of sects in Russia, at the close of the last century, preached suicide by burning. Again, the keynote of their philosophy was that the anti-Christ was ruling, that the end of the world was at hand. Suicide was, therefore, the only road to happiness. Only fire could cleanse the soul of the sins of this world. And the leaders of this sect advocated suicide by burning. One such preacher exhorted the father of a family to enclose himself with his wife and children in a wooden hut. Thereupon,
the preacher himself piled straw about the walls and kindled the fire. An epidemic of such suicide fires soon swept the whole country. In one case, a woman escaped and reported the proceedings to the police. As the latter came upon the scene of the fire, the sectarians shouted in ghastly voices: "The anti-Christ is here. Draw closer into the fire," as the flames enveloped them.
Only a few months ago, a "suicide pact" was unearthed in Soviet Russia. A young girl told of how, as she was going home from work in Moscow, she was accosted by a man who asked her if she were a virgin. When she modestly nodded in the affirmative, the stranger told her that he needed her to do him a service and promised her one hundred rubles in compensation. Feeling confident that the man was trustworthy, the girl accepted his offer.
For some time they drove through the city in an automobile. During the course of the drive, the stranger blindfolded the girl, explaining as he did so that it was very necessary. After they had reached their destination, he removed the bandage from her eyes.
They were in a large room dimly lighted. Three of the walls were draped in white silk and the fourth had been converted into a niche. As they waited, music seemed to come out of the distance, and a door opened upon a procession of ten white-clad and hooded figures. Carrying lighted candles, these hooded figures advanced and arranged themselves in two files before the niche. Then two other persons, white-clad but unmasked, a young man and a woman, came out of the doorway and entered the niche. Thereupon the others proceeded to close the opening, immuring the two victims in a living grave. Two wheelbarrows, with bricks, mortar, and trowels, standing near by, furnished the material for the purpose.
When the niche was sealed, the white-clad figures filed out as silently as they had entered the room. The young girl, who had been a horrified onlooker, was then directed to sweep the room. One of the white-clad figures returned and addressed her: "According to our rites it is necessary that a virgin not belonging to our society must clean the room after our brother and sister have passed beyond." When the girl had completed the task, she was again blindfolded and returned to the very spot upon which the man had accosted her.
Murder and self-destruction was the basic doctrine of the Thugs, a Hindu sect, first met with by the English in the nineteenth century. The origin of this sect goes back to legendary times. The members regarded themselves as devotees, engaged in the fulfillment of their duty. Their murders were committed only after certain rituals had been performed. Whatever worldly gain the murder brought them, it was shared with the goddess and the temple. The instruments of killing and burial were held in the highest esteem. An oath taken upon a pick-axe was as binding to the Thugs as one taken upon the Bible is to us.
The Thug worshipper never looked upon himself as a murderer. When one of them was asked how many people he had killed with his own hand in his life-time, his answer was "none." When he was remonstrated because he had just been describing the murders he had committed, he answered: "Could I have committed them? Is any man killed from any man's killing? Is it not the hand of God that kills him, and are we not mere instruments in the hand of God?" The Thug believed that it was his calling to be a slayer. He educated his children to follow the same
vocation, impressing upon their tender minds that it was the noblest profession a man could select and assuring them that the dark goddess would always provide rich travellers for the faithful devotees.
What was it that led man to such perverse extremes in his religion? The Thugs of India have their story to tell:
There once was a demon who roamed over the land and devoured all before him. No sooner was a child born than he was swallowed up. The world became unpeopled. There was no power on earth that could hold back or overpower this horrible monster. Still the goddess Kali attempted the impossible. Hers was the province of destruction. Why should she not destroy the destroyer?
So Kali attacked the demon and cut him down. But from every drop of his blood another one was born. The goddess continued to cut down these rising demons. She worked with wonderful skill and ever-increasing speed. But out of every drop of blood of every demon, a new demon sprang into being. Kali only augmented their number upon earth by her struggle against them. So she was compelled to turn to man for aid in her war against the evil monsters.
As all humans had been devoured by the demons, Kali created two men out of the perspiration brushed from her arms and handed each a handkerchief. She then commanded them to capture the demons and to choke them. In this way, no demon blood would be shed and, consequently, no new demons could spring into existence. The greater the number destroyed, the sooner the world would be rid of them. In time, the two men with the red handkerchiefs cleared the land of demons.
The demons had disappeared from the face of the earth, but the passion for choking, for killing, remained. Once killing is made a rite, it matters little whether the object is imaginary demon or actual man. In fact, the killing of man is more satisfying because it is real and brings into
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Kali, lover of death, destruction and murder, trampling under foot her own husband
play all the savagery that lies buried deep in the human heart. Once man smells blood he will create sufficient theories to keep this maddening odour ever before him. A new philosophy is evolved, an obsession of being caught between the devil and the deep sea. There is no hope for the world and none for the individual, at least not on
this earth. But even in the moment of despair, there exists a moment of ecstasy and release. And so great is the hunger for this rare moment that one is ready to sacrifice his very life for it.
It is organized society that produces the rebel and institutionalized religion that gives birth to the sect. In all ailments of the sects, we must go back to the parent religion for the hereditary taint. It was religion that first created a deep between man's "would" and his "should." Religion gave rise to a discrepancy between man's desires and his expression of them. In fact, as an institution, it created or encouraged a two-compartment system, a system of believing in one way and acting in another. When the two are utterly incompatible, apparent harmony may be reached by prayer, penance, or any form of absolution.
At the close of the daily prayer, the pious orthodox Jew reads the thirteen articles of his faith, one of which is that he believes in the coming of the Messiah. He professes that, although the advent is delayed, he is daily awaiting the arrival. In the deepest faith and seriousness, the pious man reads the article. Yet this will not hold him from taking a lease for ninety-nine years. In ordinary life, the two are dissociated, and one does not interfere with the other. Still, in times of unrest, a religious frenzy has overtaken entire Jewish communities and the members have given up all worldly possessions and started out on their-way to meet the Messiah.
Most Christians have learned to place little emphasis on the negative teachings of the New Testament in regard to the sexual life. They are more wont to dwell upon the
positive element—the motherly love of Mary and the love of Jesus for humanity. Yet the negative attitude toward sex is so overwhelming and the theological structures that were built upon it so enormous that true believers have learned to live in a duplex system. They make good lovers and fathers and go on living for all that life may offer them in comfort and joy, in spite of the sombre elements of their faith.
But not all people possess the necessary balance to live in a spiritual duplex apartment. There are those who rebel against this complacency. They cannot split their individuality. They must live upon one even base and under one square roof. They therefore upset the artificial, socially superimposed equilibrium, going back to the beginnings, to the mire of sex and blood. Some find their salvation in unbridled sexuality, in what we are inclined to call depravity. Others are not strong enough physically to endure it or their sensibilities have already been dulled. They are the ones who revolt against the flesh and against life.
Self-destruction is a frequent concomitant of mental disorder. Whatever he who is mentally deranged may think of it, to us it may seem as if nature were to say: Here, my child, you cannot live in the world into which you were born. Come back to me, into the great, eternal womb of the universe.