|INTERMEDIATE TYPES AMONG PRIMITIVE FOLK|
A Study in Social Evolution
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
It may seem rather too late - at the close of a book - to criticise its title! But in the present case perhaps this is the best place for the purpose. It may have occurred to readers of the foregoing pages that the word "Intermediate" hardly covers all the human types dealt with or spoken of. Between the quite normal man and the quite normal woman there are certainly a number of intermediate grades. There are men who approach women more or less in their sex-temperament and other respects - who are feminine or even effeminate in their various degrees; and there are women who approach men - who are somewhat masculine or even virile; and specimens of all these degrees have passed before us. But there are other types which can hardly be called "intermediate." If there are men who vary from the normal mantype in the feminine direction - and who may perhaps be termed "subvirile" - there are also men who vary in the opposite direction, and may be called "supervirile." If there are women who are less feminine than the normal woman, there are also other women who are "ultra-feminine." These types - these superviriles and ultra-feminines - are not between but beyond the normal boundaries. And not only should we theoretically conclude on the existence of such types, but practically we discover them, both around us to-day, and among the various peoples of the past.
There are certainly some men of amazing virility - great fighters, organisers, thinkers - powerful both in muscle and brain - who seem in their love-relations to stand to the ordinary man much as the latter does to the woman. Prof. Gustav Jaeger (Footnote 1) said, in 1884:-
"What struck me most at first, but now appears to be perfectly explicable and natural, is that among the homosexuals are to be found the most remarkable specimens of men, namely those that I call supervirile. Such men stand by virtue of a special variation of their soul-stuff as much above the man as the normally sexual man does above the woman. Such a man is able by virtue of his soul-aroma to bewitch men, just as they, in the passive way, bewitch him. And as he lives almost always in the society of men, and men cast themselves at his feet, it often happens that such a supervirile mounts to the highest grades of mental and spiritual development, of social position, and of masculine ability."
Dr. Jaeger then gives a strong list of generals, sovereigns, philosophers, artists, etc. as examples.
Allowing something for a kind of enthusiastic exaggeration in this passage, and something also for the use of the invidious word "above" when "beyond" perhaps would have been more to the point, we may say that Dr. Jaeger’s remarks of thirty years ago have, on the whole, been corroborated and accepted by modern thought; and refering to the present volume we may fairly suppose that the Dorian Greeks or the Japanese Samurai must have counted among them men of such a "supervirile" quality as he describes.
Similarly among the women alluded to here and there in the first chapter above, there would doubtless be some ultra-feminine - who would stand in their love-relation to the ordinary woman much as the latter does to the normal man. In both these cases the term "intermediate" is not quite the fitting one; and I can only ask the reader to excuse its use in consideration of the difficulty of finding a term which really covers all the ground. I must also acknowledge a similar deficiency in the use of the expression "Primitive Folk" in the title. The expression is somewhat too narrow, and requires a good deal of stretching in order to include the early Greek and Japanese civilisations; but I failed to find a better one to hand.
There is another point which may be mentioned here. As we have seen that the varieties of human type, intermediate and other, are very numerous, almost endless, so we shall do well to keep in mind that the varieties of love and sex-relation between individuals of these types are almost endless, and cannot be dispatched in sweeping generalisations - whether such relations be normal or homosexual. The British mind, curiously enough, if the latter are mentioned as occurring among men, immediately flies to one only conclusion - the same in fact as that indicated by the translators of the Bible in dealing with the word "Kedeshim" (supra,) and the common repugnance to the idea of masculine love in this country is no doubt largely due to this view - since no great repugnance seems to be felt to the idea of feminine amours. Now it would be absurd and insincere to say that this mode of familiarity does not occur; but it is certain that in love-relations between men in the Western world, it is comparatively rare and only to be found in a small percentage of cases; and there is plenty of evidence to show that even in the primitive world of which we have been speaking it was by no means always implied. If one reads Xenophon, for instance, speaking as a contemporary of the Dorian customs in Sparta, one finds that he expressly denies the implication. Nor in foreign countries to-day does the British view hold.
In Germany and Italy a quite devoted or passionate love between men is recognised without people necessarily assuming this particular expression of it. And the common view here affords a strange glimpse into the working of the British mind, and has even led some foreigners to form a quite unfavorable, and probably false, conclusion as to our actual habits.
However this may be, I think the facts put forward in the preceding papers about the early social life of the world will never be understood in their right light, and their real import recognised, until it is perceived that love in a very true and deep human sense lay at the root of most of the institutions described, and became through them the source of vital developments to humanity. Sex, of course, has its perfect rights to expression and consideration - and no sensible person would wish to deny these; but we feel that love is the real thing on which human nobility rests. When we once clearly see and understand that - as for example through the Dorian or the Samurai institutions - it will doubtless become easier to understand some of the more remote and primitive institutions dealt with in the first chapter, on divination, etc.
One common cause of misunderstanding in these matters is that in most cases where the modern mind has to deal with ancient customs, of peoples far back and alien from ourselves, we may indeed know the outer forms, but we are profoundly ignorant of the real feelings and emotions which underlay and inspired them; and we easily fall into a way, on the one hand, of falsely interpreting the forms, and on the other hand, of ignoring their inner meaning altogether.
There has been a tendency for instance - and that no doubt derived largely from the Jewish Bible - to dismiss the more or less sexual worships of Syria and Babylonia as mere unadulterated wickedness and licentiousness; but is this not largely because we have so little means of seeing from within what they really meant to those who took part in them? The rite of Venus Mylitta, as described by Herodotus (Book i. 199), by which every woman was "obliged, once in her life, to sit in the temple of Venus and have intercourse with some stranger," sounds at a first reading like a mere glorification of prostitution, and has led to much horrified holding up of hands; but when one turns to the further account by the same author (Book i. 131, 132), one sees that the worship must have had great and admirable elements in it. It was associated with sacrifice to the sun and moon and the great powers of Nature, and "he that sacrifices is not permitted to pray for blessings for himself alone; but is obliged to offer prayers for the prosperity of all." Richard Burton, referring to this custom in The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886, vol. x., p. 231), says
"It was a mere consecration of a tribal rite. Everywhere girls before marriage belong either to the father or the clan, and thus the maiden paid the debt due to the public before becoming private property as a wife. The same usage prevailed in ancient Armenia, and in parts of Ethiopia. . . . It is noticed by Justin (xviii., c. 5), and it probably explains the Succoth Benoth, or damsels’ booths, which the Babylonians transplanted to the cities of Samaria."
Or one may refer in the same connection to the well-known passage in Captain Cook’s First Voyage (Hawkesworth ii. 128), where he describes the rites of Venus performed as a religious ceremony in Otaheite between a young man and a girl, in public
"before several of our people and a great number of the natives; but, as appeared, in perfect conformity to the custom of the place. Among the spectators were several women of superior rank, who may properly be said to have assisted at the ceremony, for they gave instruction to the girl how to perform her part."
Here evidently a ceremony indecent in the eyes of white folk excited respect and reverence in the natives themselves.
Or again, we have quoted the Father Lafitau (ch. i., supra) on the extraordinary customs of the American Indians and their connection with religion, which he compares with similar features in the old worships of Cybele or Venus Urania; and anyone might superficially suppose that he dismisses all these customs as examples of mere license. Yet in another passage of his book (vol. i, p. 607) he compares the friendships of the Indians to the heroic friendships of Greece, and after mentioning some of these latter, he continues:-
"The Brazilians call friends of this kind Atour-assap, i.e., the perfect ally ("le parfait allie"). The Sieur de Leri (Leri, Hist. du Bresil, ch. xx.) assures us that the alliance which is formed between them by this sort of union is so strong that all their possessions become absolutely in common, as if they really were but one person; and that the one cannot after that marry into the family of the other, within the prohibited degrees, any more than if they were blood relations of the first degree."
"Among the Indians of North America,"
Lafitau further says:
"these friendship-relations do not exhibit any appearance of vice, although there is - or may be - a good deal of this in fact. They are very ancient in their origin, very marked and constant in their form, sacred almost, if I may say so, in respect of the union which they compose, and of which the bonds are as closely knit as those of blood and of nature. Nor can they be dissolved unless indeed one of the two, rendering himself unworthy by such cowardices as would dishonour his friend, should force the latter to renounce the alliance - a thing which some missionaries have assured me they have witnessed examples of. The relatives of the friends are the first to encourage these alliances, and to respect their rights and duties; and the selections are honorable in character, being founded on mutual merit according to their idea, on conformity of customs, and on a kind of rivalry which makes each one wish to be the friend of those who are well thought of and justly honoured."
"These friendships are gained by presents made by the one to such other as he desires to have as friend; they are maintained by mutual tokens of good will; and the friends remain companions of the chase, of war, and of fortune; and have the right to food and hospitality each in the cabin of the other. The warmest compliments indeed that one can make to the other is to give him this name of friend; and these friendships mature with advancing age, and are so closely connected that one often finds among them a heroism similar to that of Orestes and Pylades."
(Lafitau concludes this passage by quoting stories, told him by the missionaries, of such Indian friends refusing to be separated and insisting on dying together.)
Such evidence as this does not point to a state of unadulterated wickedness! And in fact may we not say that it is extremely improbable that any great people that has left an abiding mark upon the world has had its institutions and religion built upon mere sexual licence? Would it not argue indeed a great want of perception in anyone to suppose such a thing? We may, however, say this, that probably for these earlier folk who lived so much more out in the great open of Nature than we do, and who also lived, mentally speaking, in the great open of the tribal life of their fellows, their outlook on the world was in many respects far saner than ours. There was probably less disease both of body and mind, and many things were clean to them which for us have become soiled and unclean. There was a religion of the body, and a belief in the essential sacredness of all its processes, which we somehow have lost - and which we shall not probably socially regain until we once more adopt the free life of the open air and restore the healing and gracious sense of human community and solidarity.
Bearing this in mind it becomes possible to see that a great many of the customs we have mentioned, whether in Syria or Babylonia, or in Greece, or in Africa, or in North and South America, had a value quite other than that which appears at first sight - a profound and human value - and that they represented necessary contributions towards the evolution of mankind and the expression of its latent powers. And as regards the present volume, I think we may say that the general result of the enquiries contained in it is to show that among primitive folk variations of sex-temperament from the normal have not been negligible freaks, but have played an important part in the evolution and expansion of human society - that in a certain sense variations of social activity have run parallel with and been provoked by variations in sex-temperament.
We have seen that among early peoples the quite normal man is warrior and hunter, and the quite normal woman house-wife and worker-round-the house; and it is quite conceivable that if no intermediate types had arisen, human society might have remained stationary in these simple occupations. But when types of men began to appear who had no taste for war and slaughter - men, perhaps, of a more gentle or feminine disposition; or when types of women arose who chafed at the slavery of the house, and longed for the open field of adventure and activity - women, in fact, of a more masculine tendency - then necessarily and quite naturally these new-comers had to find, and found, for themselves new occupations and new activities The intermediate types of human beings created intermediate spheres of social life and work. And we have seen that there is abundant evidence to show (what, of course, all physiology and modern thought would lead us to expect) that these variations of the general human type commonly sprang from, or at least were most intimately associated with, variations of the sex-temperament itself; or perhaps we should say of the germ-plasm which lies at the back of the sex-temperament We have seen over and over again in the preceding pages that peculiar classes of men and women, diverging from the normal in their sex-customs and habits, became the repositories and foci of new kinds of learning and skill, of new activities and accomplishments Thus the foundational occupations of human life - such as fighting, hunting, child-rearing, and agriculture having been laid down by the normal sex types, it was largely the intermediate types who developed the superstructure The priest or medicineman or shaman was at first the sole representative of this new class, and we have seen that he was almost invariably, in some degree or other, of Uranian temperament.
His work, to begin with, was prophetic or divinatory; but this soon branched out on the one hand into rude poetry, drama, dance and song - what we should call Art - and on the other into elementary observation of the stars and the seasons, medicine and the herbs - what we should call Science. The temples became centres of learning and of the development of the arts and crafts. And a god who combined in some degree the attributes of both male and female was commonly worshipped in their courts.
So far with regard to the sex-types that may be called truly intermediate. But we have touched on the existence also of types quite beyond the normal at either end of the scale - namely the super-virile man and the ultra-feminine woman. We have seen that the facts now accessible suggest that the supervirile type of man has done great service to the world in furnishing it not only with superb individuals - generals, organisers, and leaders of men; but also with powerful and noble races and classes like the Dorians or the Samurai. There is a certain a priori probability in this theory, but it waits for further study and development. Finally we have the ultra-feminine woman whose special mission to society may perhaps turn out to reside in works of charity and mercy; but this type has at present been but little studied or considered, and before pronouncing any opinion it would be wise to wait and see what the actual facts may indicate.