The sexual images and moaning and groaning in Sex and the Celts were terribly irritating and didn’t fit at all because watching the film was like being in a boring classroom rather than experiencing an engaging documentary. It did have a lot of great information, so notes…
A theory: In hunter gatherer societies, children were nursed with very little supplementation until the age of 5. The act of nursing serves as a sort of natural birth control so children were fairly well spread out. But, once the clay pot was invented, things could be boiled and supplementation for the young was much easier to come by. As soon as this occurred, it was easier for women to have their babies closer together. The clay pot marked the move from the hunter gatherer society to the agrarian society. And with women having children closer together, they began to view sex more as a job than as something pleasurable.
The goddess became extremely important during the shift from hunting-gathering societies (which typically worshipped animals as gods) to the agrarian society. The rise of the goddess may have actually been the origination of the decline of the female. A common ritual was for a King to copulate with a hag who would later turn out to be a territorial goddess. This copulation legitimized the king as a sacred king and was said to bring about the fruitfulness of the land. If the land is fruitful, the women get pregnant, the corn grows, there are fish in the sea, etc. This all comes about through the copulation of the king with the territorial goddess. If he is the wrong king, then there will be famine, enemy attacks, and death.
The societies that existed prior to the neolithic period were characterized by sexual and gender equality. This use of the goddess in agrarian societies was the first step to the control and dominate of women. It likewise provided a means for the control and exploitation of the land which could be mined and controlled without consequence or respect. The goddess is associated with the reverential worship of the earth, but the earth is now viewed differently than it was in hunter gatherer societies. It is now OK for the earth to be “raped”.
With the introduction of the Bronze Age came the introduction of the phallic symbol. This was a pull away from the feminine symbol and was accompanied by an increase in violence and warfare. It may have come about from the reproductive changes that the new stone age had ushered in. Pulling children away and weening them abruptly from the mother is one of the signs of a warlike society. These people are more interested in bloodlines and lineage and therefore obsessed with paternity. Raiding and combat becomes a normal way of life. The status of women becomes perceived as beneath that of males and a child’s paternity is considered a vital issue.
But even with this diminished status, Celtic women owned property, had the right to bare arms, became Druids, and engaged in politics. They could also divorce their husband’s for a variety of reasons including failure to satisfy them sexually. The union between the sacred King and the territorial Goddess remained the central myth that fueled the spiritual and political consciousness of the society. It’s not just a human king ruling benevolently – the union gives him god-like status.
In early Celtic tradition, the earth mother goddess engaged in the sexual union with king after king and it was said she always had a man in waiting. This may have represented a pre-Celtic social order where women retained a high degree of sexual autonomy. In later Celtic literature, the earth mother goddess is transformed into an evil, manipulative queen who uses men to satisfy her lusts and to do her bidding.
The popular Celtic man-God, Cuchulainn, gains his power by being able to resist the seductive magic of women and sublimates his sexual energies into superhuman acts of heroism. The earth mother goddess sends her daughter to seduce Cuchalainn, but he impales her on a pillar of stone. He is a sexual misfit and sexually ambivalent. He sleeps with women, but his greatest affection is for men and usually the sexual encounters involved three men rather than two.
It is possible that men began to fear what they thought of as magical powers that women possessed. Birth is only necessary because there is death and it is women who bring birth about. In the Christian era, the Goddess as Hag was still celebrated during Halloween but was no longer considered part of the great cycle of birth and death. In fact, she was presented as the barren winter. She is made out to be angry, ugly and in need of an aspiring King for her well-being. (In pre-Christian times, it was the king who was in need of the hag who became the beautiful territorial Goddess of fertility.)
Mysogynistic Christianity brought with it a radical new way of viewing the relationship between man and woman. In the early Irish Church, women were said to be the gateway to Hell and there was literature written by a Irish monks that said it would be better to kill women than to live with them. St. Patrick likewise did not have patience with wayward women. Legend has it he crushed one under the wheels of his chariot because he didn’t want to see her commit a sin. Patrick’s church was so anti-sexual that several church patriarchs even condemned marriage as a sinful way of life.
Holiness was equated with pain rather than with pleasure. The greater the pain, the holier the hermit and the greater the reward in heaven. The documentary goes through tale after horrible tale of hatred toward women written by Irish monks.
The Catholic Handbook for Penitents originated in Ireland and then spread to the rest of Europe. This was the book that told priests how to define and punish sins. 40% of the text is about sex. If people were to stick to the rules that were assigned in the handbook, people could only have sex 2 times a week. In old Irish, masturbation was called a hand festival. But when the monks came along, they created penitential practice for 9 different types of masturbation!
The more monasticism expanded in Ireland, the less purist and more pagan Catholicism became. It also absorbed the pagan sexual outlook that it had tried so hard to suppress. Married priests became the norm. Women were also powerful figures as an attempt was made to replace the Celtic Druidesses with women like Saint Brigid. The transition from a religion that paired gods with goddesses to a monotheistic religion that was entirely male was an extremely difficult transition.
In the 1100s, however, the king of Ireland had an important Abbess raped. This would have been equivalent to raping the British Queen. And at the same time, religious orders were sent to Ireland to insure papal supremacy and to get marital laws under control. (Divorce, concubinage, etc. was allowed in Ireland at the time.) Henry II invaded Ireland and Ireland was brought under the control of Rome however sexuality remained lax by papal standards. There is the story from a cistercian monk about how his fellow monks watched nuns bathing naked in a lake and then brought them back to their monastery to “pray in a very unchristian like manner”. The Norman conquistadors who had been sent to bring Ireland under papal power also ended up mixing paganism and Christianity and became as Irish as the Irish. Some of the Norman chiefs were reported as having as many as 27 sons which most definitely were not begotten by the same woman.
When protestant England came into being and sought to gain control of Ireland, it did so by closing it’s monasteries. There were long period of fighting and starvation in Ireland during this time period. In 1641 Ireland had a population around 1.5 million. A decade later, it had been reduced by two-thirds. The remaining Irish were abused and enslaved by the protestant settlers. Many were transported to England and America as slaves and women became the sexual playthings of their masters and were sometimes mated with African slaves. Any offspring also became slaves. Many Irish women not enslaved became prostitutes and unwilling mistresses. The streets became a sexual nightmare for women. They were often ripped from the protection of their husbands and raped by the soldiers who were supposed to be protecting them.
In the Victorian period, sexuality outside of marriage was condemned but brothels thrived. Pornography was common and often graphic. Many diseases were invented (like nocturnal emissions) in order to discourage sex and terrible appliances were created to prevent the spread of these made up diseases. There were terrible devices invented to prevent masturbation, too. If an erection occurred during the night, one such invention would provide an electric shock. The Gothic world came into being as a reaction to that which could not be discussed in the polite society of the Victorian world. Western Ireland, however, was much freer sexually and the position of women was also much freer.
In the 1800s, the Potato Famine spread across Ireland and reduced it’s population by 2.5 million in 5 years. The communities that were entirely dependent upon the potato were completely destroyed. People fled Ireland to the United States. An estimated 50,000 Irish prostitutes worked the streets of New York and abandoned Irish kids were numerous as well.
The famine was presented by the Catholic Church as God’s way of purifying Ireland. This view created the militant puritanical views that were present in Ireland for the next 1 1/2 centuries. The numbers of priests and nuns grew to that of industrial proportions. Every family was to provide at least one son or daughter to the nuns, priests or brothers. By 1911, the ratio of priests to Catholics was 1 to 210. By 1926, 1 in 50 single males (age 45 to 54) were priests or monks. Thanks to the extreme sexual suppression established by the Church, the Irish population fell from 8.2 to 4.3 million making the Irish birthrate the lowest in the world. The people had been demoralized by the Potato famine so were more willing to be molded by the Catholic clergy. Ireland became highly puritanistic and grew even more so over time.
Contact between the sexes was limited. Men married late if at all. In the 1930s, 3/4s of 25-45 year old men remained single which produced a huge increase in admission to mental hospitals. Women were considered to be the source of all temptation but the moral guardians of the families. Sinners were called upon to do penance by providing labor to the Catholic Church. People sometimes provided unpaid labor for their entire lives as repayment for their sins. Girls who were raped, illigitmate, or orphaned, or even so pretty as to be a danger to their souls, were forced to work for the Immaculate Sisters, sometimes for their entire lives. They were enslaved and beaten by the nuns and as late as the 1970s, were subject to horrible sexual abuse.
Today’s Irish culture is far more sexually open but as of the time of this documentary (the DVD came out in 2005, but I think it is from a much older Video), the Irish society was still facing massive problems pertaining to sexual abuse – especially sexual abuse in the home. Church and State still used every means at their disposal to cover up problems to make Ireland more respectable to the rest of the world. Child abuse is a massive problem.