Ep 78 – CC Polygamy Pt1
On this episode, we finally dive into polygamy. We’re ramping up for polygamy in Nauvoo prior to April 1841, but before doing so we have to set the historical stage to understand the world from which Mormon polygamy evolved. We begin with marriage from the dawn of historical time and skim across the top of major world religions throughout most of written history to finally arrive at the post-enlightenment western world filled with small groups of free-love proto-hippies. This is part 1 of a multi-part series on Mormon polygamy.
History of Marriage – Alex Gendler
1955 Hindu Marriage Act
Polygamy in Judaism
1908 Jewish encyclopedia on Polygamy
Saint Augustine On the Good of Marriage
Adamite or Adamian free-love church
History of United Methodist and Wesley Brothers
Quran Surah 4 an-Nisaa
Polygyny in Islam
Martin Luther’s writings on Polygamy
Martin Luther wiki page
Munster Rebellion wiki page
Polygamy vs. Monogamy population study
William Blake Visions of the Daughters of Albion
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Human sexuality is a powerful force which drives or governs many of our actions. Sex is the sole mechanism by which our species persists and flourishes and through a myriad of selective pressures we’ve come to find ourselves living in a world where sex is primarily viewed through a religious lens. Until recently, it was strictly priests or some other religious leader who would approve of and officiate a marriage ceremony, usually interviewing the individuals to be married prior to performing the ceremony to give what they saw as sound marriage advice and to determine whether or not said religious leader approved of the pairing. In so many cultures throughout history, and even today, nobody enjoys marriage without the stamp of approval from the minister, reverend, or bishop. Today we have secular celebrants, and the act of getting married amounts to nothing more than two people signing a secular document in front of a judge at the courthouse, yet the grandiose ceremony with no real-world application still survives. Two people come together with each family on either side of the isle, a priest or some qualified officiator makes a profound speech full of platitudes that don’t actually help the couple live their day-to-day life, after which said officiator pronounces the people married and gives them permission to kiss and then the crowd throws rice at the newlyweds, somebody’s uncle breaks a glass in a washcloth, people likely get drunk and dance, and the ceremony is over. But all of that is just a show. What really matters is the secular document they signed granting them a marriage license, which determines them to be married. Everything else is a largely sectarian holdover from our earliest societies where these ceremonies were truly significant.
If we think back to the tribal foundations of marriage ceremonies, they were crucial to making and keeping peace among different tribes of people. Picture the prototypical two warring tribes led by elder alpha warriors. They finally have enough of killing each other and the two tribe leaders decide to wed their children and intermingle DNA in order to bind the two families together, signaling to the rest of both tribes that the other tribe are friendly and they can all intermarry and everybody lives happy lives without having to worry about the other tribe killing them. Now this bigger tribe can find another smaller tribe and fight with them until they’re wiped out or until they come to an agreement and marry together more of the alphas children, and so on and so forth until tribes become large enough to conquer by sword or by marriage large swaths of land. These ceremonies were largely conducted by the spiritual or religious leaders of the tribes and they served an actual purpose in uniting clans and passing daughters off as property.
Which brings us to another use for marriage, property exchange. My great warrior, Bogran, go conquer our promised land inhabited by those infidels and you can have your pick of my daughters for a wife. Or, two men make a business deal in buying or selling land or goods, one of the guys might throw in a daughter to sweeten the deal and ensure smooth transition of property. It all comes down to some way of intermingling DNA to express good will between two people or groups of people.
One significant piece which cannot be ignored in the historical marriage formula is purity. The only way to ensure that a man’s children were indeed his own was for him to marry a virgin woman. The male’s virginity is rarely ever an issue so the weight of staying pure usually falls to women. A woman’s worth is determined by her purity. One man with three beautiful virgin daughters could wealthier than a man with 10 beautiful non-virgin daughters for trade. It’s how humans have commodified our most basic natural instinct to reproduce. Along with any commodity, the wealthiest tend to amass more of it than the less wealthy. A poor sharecropper needs one wife with 12 kids to work the fields, but the nobleman may have 5 houses, 3000 acres, 15 wives, and 35 kids, that’s just how society was structured in a world where women are property.
It wouldn’t be until the 20th century when the newfound craze of love-marriages would begin making its way into American culture. Prior to that, it was a lucky convenience if love was present in a marriage, but definitely not a necessity. Often a love interest would develop between two people in courtship, but the business aspect of the marriage would fall out and the marriage wouldn’t go through. Sometimes love interests would develop between people who were never allowed to get married.
In each and every one of these examples, it’s been largely incumbent upon the established religion or spiritualism to ascribe specific value and restrictions on a person’s sexuality. We have innate human instincts which push us towards having a single partner and saving child rearing for that person, but religions have been able to apply words of value to sexuality and punishment for the unauthorized practice thereof. You’re chaste and pure or you’re defiled and damned. Love and doting follow one, shame and exile follow the other. In much the same way sexuality has been successfully commodified, it’s been weaponized with the complicated emotions surrounding this basic human practice.
Think about this on an individual level. If something sexually entices us, that’s attractive, beautiful, sensual. But what about a specific sexual practice that we don’t like? It’s disgusting, perverse, and sinful. All of those are words we ascribe to deep human emotions of liking or disliking something when it comes to sexuality.
Everybody is different. Most of us fall into a few simplistic categories we ascribe to what we like and dislike about sexuality, most people fall into the cys-hetero, but it’s only been recently in broad American culture that we’ve been acknowledging the existence of sexuality outside of these societal norms. Gay rights have opened up avenues of discussion to all points on the sexuality spectrum to be defined. What started as acknowledgement that some people don’t like the other sex has evolved into more healthy discussions of what everybody likes and dislikes sexually. Transsexual people have a seat at the table where they never seemed to be a topic of discussion before. Queer people not defined by simple categories are taking back the word from being a pejorative slur. Bisexual people who refuse to follow only the cys-hetero side of their sexual identity are finding it easier to have conversations about who and what they find enticing. People with fetishes the mainstream considers weird live in online communities filled with pros sharing tips on how to tie up their partner without giving them rope burn. Some people can’t get off without putting themselves or their partner in situations which require safewords. Some people are genuinely attracted to only children and resort to predatory practices to get their fix because children can’t legally consent. Some people are poly-pansexual, open to every kind of love from every kind of person, many of whom choose to live in small communes of like-minded folk who spend every night in a different bed with different partners, shunning off the orthodoxy of the society around them.
Today begins a multiple-part series breaking down the most notable, salacious, and attention-grabbing aspect of Mormonism and Mormon history, polygamy.
Polygamy in Mormonism is something we’ve briefly discussed up to this point in our historical timeline, but it’s a topic which has enjoyed an incredible breadth of scholarship and exposure over the history of the church. In toiling with how to present this without redoing what Lindsay Park did with Year of Polygamy or just reading an audio version of Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, I’m left with the task of conveying the importance and historical impact of polygamy in Mormonism without making it the primary focus of our overarching Nauvoo analysis.
Let’s lay out a roadmap of how these next few episodes will go. We’ll begin with defining some terms and discussing polyamorous and wife-swapping societies and cultures in Europe and America which led up to or possibly even influenced Mormonism. Then we’ll dig into the subject of polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo and skim over some of Utah Polygamy in the 19th century. After that we’re going to look at later iterations and how polygamy was practiced all through the 20th century into the modern-day with a focus on various Mormon factions which broke from the Brighamite and Reorganized orthodoxy. We’ll have interviews peppered throughout the episodes from people with experiences in polygamy to spice things up and bring some first-hand knowledge to the table.
One quick word before jumping in. I’m going to stay as far away from ought as possible and just talk about what is. The issue with talking polygamy and other forms of lifestyle and sexual preference choices is not asserting one specific lifestyle over the other as superior. That being said, inherent in many of these polygamous societies is a patriarchal power dynamic which bears examination and scrutiny. Informed consent is a tough requirement to parse out of such societies when entire lifestyles are structured around a few powerful men controlling subservient women and child-slave laborers to keep the society afloat. We’ll discuss these foundational aspects of common polygamous cultures when we get there. Also, one more quick addition, I have very little control over what the guests may say in the interviews and their biases come into play given their experiences, but those experiences are valid and what they say is based on those experiences. Join me in this stroll through polygamy in history.
Let’s define a few loaded terms which will be very useful in our examination of polygamy.
Polygamy merely means many spouses, whereas monogamy is one spouse. While we think monogamous societies have been the norm because it is in most societies today, polygamy in some form has existed for much longer than we have written history and was often reserved for the wealthiest in structured societies.
Polygyny is what we focus on primarily when it comes to Mormonism. Polygyny is specifically one man with multiple wives, while polyandry is one woman with many husbands.
Polyamory is from Greek meaning many-love. Polyamory as it’s defined modernly is the practice of intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. It has been described as "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.
Adultery or affairs are simply where one person in a committed monogamous relationship has extra-marital relations with one or multiple people without the knowledge or consent of their spouse.
Wife-swapping is simply a colloquial term for swinging or two couple trading spouses.
Spiritual Wifery was a term used by Mormons and anti-Mormons as a pejorative for unauthorized polygyny.
Polygamy has been a part of most societies dating before we have written history. The Code of Ur Nammu, the oldest text we have for the establishment of a government written between 2100-2050 BCE in Sumerian was discovered in Mesopotamia on two stone tablets, which was translated in the mid-20th century. Nailing down government laws and ordinances or even socially acceptable forms of marriage prior to this is an exercise in futility as only small fragments of tablets remain. We can rest assured that polygamy was not only seen as socially acceptable, but was the societal norm, especially for elites in society. From all we can tell, strict monogamy as the societal norm has only arisen in various sedentary agricultural cultures in relatively recent history. A few relevant extracts from the Code of Ur Nammu which sound oddly similar to what survived in some of the laws included in the Torah:
“4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not
leave the household.
• 5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
• 6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
• 7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free. (§4 in some translations)
• 8. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin female slave of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver. (5)
• 9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay her one mina of silver. (6)
• 10. If it is a (former) widow whom he divorces, he shall pay her half a mina of silver. (7)
• 11. If the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage contract, he need not pay any silver. (8)
• 25. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt. (22)”
From this Code of Ur Nammu, we can see a number of laws governing marriage, but it doesn’t specify anything about monogamy vs. polygamy. What does seem to arise is the fact that women were mere property and having some property doesn’t limit your ability to gain other property. It does have 2 provisions sanctioning divorce, so we can understand that marriage as an institution predates the text and was considered the status quo. However, given how the text reads in limiting the practice of adultery, i.e. killing the woman and setting the man free when said affair happens, it does express how vital to society marriage was. How else to you ensure that your children are actually yours? I’m asking that of the men, of course, because these laws were written by men for men to govern a society dominated by men, which will be a recurring theme throughout most of what we discuss in relation to marriage and polygamy.
The code does state that if a slave-woman insolently compares herself to a man’s mistress, that she’ll be punished by scouring of the mouth with a quart of salt. Mistresses and concubines were simply a part of the status quo, and slave-women were also seemingly treated as sex toys by their masters.
The Code of Ur Nammu is a secular text. There are no provisions about religious practice or limitations anywhere in the text. This was purely a piece issued for the governance of a polytheistic pagan society for the betterment of said society. Most of the other provisions I didn’t read just lay out the punishments for assaulting somebody else or how land contracts are to be dealt with. You can check the show notes for a link to the entire translation.
If we zoom out to the history of world cultures and marriage practices, polygamy was the societal norm, and today only about ¼ of cultures strictly prohibit polygamy. You’ll find a link in the show notes to a TED ed animated video titled “The history of marriage by Alex Gendler” which examines the history of marriage from ancient societies to modern day and I would strongly recommend giving it a watch. It really illustrates how prevalent polygamy was and is and how rare monogamy has been as the status quo in historical societies.
Many religious texts divinely sanction or command polygamy in certain instances. The Rig Veda, compiled as part of the Hindu canon sometime between 1700 and 1100 BCE includes a few passages relating to polygamy.
It sanctions the practice of polygamy for one man of multiple women of lower castes, provided his first wife was of his caste. Typically only reserved for the elites in society as women were and are seen as property, men of lower castes marrying multiple women of even lower castes is usually only practiced when the first wife is unable to bear children and often only limited to one extra wife.
“According to Vishnu Smriti, the number of wives is linked to the caste system:
This linkage of the number of permitted wives to the caste system is also supported by Baudhayana Dharmasutra and Paraskara Grihyasutra.
The Apastamba Dharmasutra and Manusmriti allow a second wife if the first one is unable to discharge her religious duties or is unable to bear a son.”
In 1955, the Parliament of India enacted the Hindu Marriage act, which made polygamy illegal for Hindus living in India. This is a small snapshot of the text from the act:
“This Act applies -
to any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj;
to any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion; and
to any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion, unless it is proved that any such person would not have been governed by the Hindu law or by any custom or usage as part of that law in respect of any of the matters dealt with herein if this Act had not been passed.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hindu_Marriage_Act,_1955
Any person not practicing Hinduism wasn’t included in the polygamy restriction. Polygamy is still legal for every other religion in India.
As for Buddhism, with a religion with so many adherents and spreading across such vast swaths of geography, polygamy and how it’s treated in society varies substantially. Most Buddhist areas tacitly approve of polygamy, but many of these cultures see it as a substandard form of marriage and consider any man who seeks a second wife to be on the decline in his first marriage, and possibly on the decline in society in general.
With such a rich history of over 3000 years, spanning so many areas with billions of adherents, it’s really hard to quantify the stance of Hinduism and Buddhism when it comes to polygamy, especially because what is approved of or disparaged in society is largely limited to geography. Two groups living in Southwestern China could both be Buddhist with one group practicing polygamy while the other forbade it, there’s just no simple description either of these religions fit into when it comes to monogamy vs. polygamy.
Once we dive into Judaism and cultures throughout the near and middle east spanning to western cultures, polygamy is largely enshrined in society as normative and has plenty of scriptural basis.
“Polygamy in Judaism
Polygamy was such a well [-] established part of the social system that Mosaic law is not even critical of it. We find only certain regulations with respect to it; as, for example, if a man takes a second wife the economic position of the first wife and of the children she bore must be secure; and, in the case of inheritance, no child of a subsequent marriage is to be preferred over a child from the first wife. Other regulations were that the high priest could have only one wife and that a king in Israel should not have too many wives [Lev. 21:13; Deut. 17:17; Ex. 21:10]. The last injunction, however, was of no effect. David had seven wives before he began to reign in Jerusalem, and an extraordinary number of wives and concubines has been attributed to Solomon [II Sam 3:2-5, 14; 5:13]. In connection with David, the prophet Nathan did not denounce the king for adding Uriah's wife to those he already had but ‘only’ for the means he employed to make her free to marry him. [II Sam. 12:7-15]
However, if polygamy was not forbidden – it was also certainly not directly sanctioned. It is also a fact that it was most certainly not recommended. The Torah, in the story of the creation of the woman as a "helpmate to man" with the "operation" of creating her out of the man's rib only reinforces the concept, "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be one flesh." [Gen. 2:23,24] The ideal situation, these verses of Torah teach us, are for a man and a woman to become one unit. Polygamy was a socially accepted norm from the pre-Abrahamic past and it was left undisturbed. As the civilization of the people reached a higher plateau and, especially under the teaching of the prophets, the Jewish people’s moral and religious consciousness developed, the polygamous marriage system gradually declined. This is noticeable in Israel after the return from the Exile. In the Second Commonwealth polygamy is far from general. Yet it survived far into the Christian era. In fact, if we study the New Testament as a Jewish source book, we must take note that Jesus, as a Jewish preacher of his era, neither condemns polygamous unions nor advocates a change in the system. From this noninterference attitude Luther, as late as the 16th cent., arrived at the conclusion that he could not forbid the taking of more than one wife!” http://www.benyehuda.us/poligamy.htm
When it comes to theologians and religious authorities trotting out the arguments for and against polygamy in Abrahamic traditions, there is no way to use the Torah or Bible to condemn polygamy. We can look at the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions and see that Adam had only one wife and claim that was how God wanted it to be, but that doesn’t really do much for God’s actual moral stance on polygamy as many of his prophets had wives or concubines which are mentioned in the text itself. You don’t even have to rely on assertions from other people living around them and the preponderance of rumors and exposes to claim that Solomon had some level of relationship with 1000 women, that’s just included right in the text.
One need look no further than Deuteronomy 25 to see how women are generally treated as property in Judaism passed from husband to brother when the husband dies.
“5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.
6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.”
Go back a couple of chapters to Deuteronomy 21 and you find an interesting little tidbit about non-Israelite women taken as spoils of war.
“10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.”
A few things to point out:
First, are these warriors taking these female prisoners as wives only after they divorce their first wife so as not to practice polygamy and keep up with the morality sanctioned by Adam and Eve? That’s simply absurd, warriors kept whatever they pillaged, including all the women.
Second, if you think that Israelite warriors saw a beautiful woman among the captives and didn’t rape her on the spot, you don’t know how barbaric warfare works. Famously, in the sacking of Carthage, women threw themselves off buildings to keep themselves from suffering the much worse fate surviving the destruction of the city. It may have commanded these warriors in the Pentateuch to take women into their homes and let them mourn the loss of their parents, children, husband, pets and all for a month before raping them, but I have a feeling like that part of this law wasn’t strictly adhered to.
Third, if the warrior takes her for a wife and finds out he doesn’t like her, he can just let her go. A warrior couldn’t sell her because he’d stolen her worth from the next man who would purchase her, but he could cast her away like a soiled sock and let her assimilate into a society of her enemies, where she would likely find work in a brothel for a few years before a short and painful death to disease and abuse. Women living in any war-prone society were and still are dealt a tough hand. Please don’t think these religious teachings have gone anywhere. We may be living in an enlightened society with the least global conflict the world has ever seen, but the human behaviors the commandment explicitly sanctions are a harsh every-day reality for women all over the world. We aren’t past this phase as a species yet.
As we read before in the passage about polygamy in Judaism, there isn’t an explicit commandment from Jesus outlawing or sanctioning polygamy. The writings about Jesus’ teachings strike plenty of Jewish roots and Jesus hearkens back to the Torah in a number of passages throughout the gospels, but there is no explicit condemnation of polygamy. Some who disagree with polygamy will trot out Matthew 19 where Jesus cites Genesis and claim it says man and wife not man and wives, but that passage is very explicit in what it’s addressing.
“3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
The point of this passage was to discuss divorce. Jesus explicitly condemns divorce unless a woman has sex with another man, in which case it’s alright, but there’s still a gaping loophole for polygyny which allows for men to marry multiple wives and cleave unto all of them and become one flesh with every single one of them. I don’t quite see the same loophole for polyandry because one woman marrying multiple men was probably seen as adulterous in society, so Jesus didn’t explicitly define those terms, but one man with multiple women, totally cool as long as he can provide for them.
Once we get into the spread of Christianity, things become much more historically documentable, but also significantly more confusing. This is where the subject of polygamy and polyamory really ramps up.
Emperor Constantine the Great basically established Christianity as the go-to religion in the Roman Empire. Thanks to the forgery of the “Donation of Constantine,” the Pope was granted incredible powers in the secular realm for governance over the rapidly decaying western Roman Empire. A theologian who gained some power shortly after Constantine’s death, Saint Augustine of Hippo, was viciously opposed to polygamy and divorce, a perspective which slowly infected the western societies under Catholic rule and became enshrined in the Catholic Catechism.
Saint Augustine wrote extensively on the sanctity of marriage and what should and should not be approved by the church and the societies under its rule. In his work finished around 401 CE titled “On the Good of Marriage” we find passages like this:
“But I see not how the man can have permission to marry another, in case he have left an adulteress, when a woman has not to be married to another, in case she have left an adulterer. And, this being the case, so strong is that bond of fellowship in married persons, that, although it be tied for the sake of begetting children, not even for the sake of begetting children is it loosed. For it is in a man's power to put away a wife that is barren, and marry one of whom to have children. And yet it is not allowed; and now indeed in our times, and after the usage of Rome, neither to marry in addition, so as to have more than one wife living: and, surely, in case of an adulteress or adulterer being left, it would be possible that more men should be born, if either the woman were married to another, or the man should marry another.” Ch. 7
“Clearly with the good will of the wife to take another woman, that from her may be born sons common to both, by the sexual intercourse and seed of the one, but by the right and power of the other, was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bare children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful.” Ch. 17 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1309.htm
One group Saint Augustine mentioned by name were known as the Adamites, or the Adamians. They cropped up in Northern Africa and practiced a form of early proto-Christianity wherein they claimed to have regained Adam’s primeval innocence. Most of what we know of this sect was written by early Catholic historiographers and they present a culture of utter lawlessness. Best we can tell, the Adamites practiced free-love and rejected the institution of marriage all together, while communing with God in holy nudism and holding all property in common.
By the early 400s the early Catholic church had utterly smashed this little outcropping of Adamic hippies and they were essentially lost to history for nearly a millennium with some evidence they had brief revivals at various points leading up to a major restoration in the 13th century in the Netherlands under the name of the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Taborites in Bohemia and the Beghards in Germany right before the Protestant Reformation. Every time these little free-love sparks would strike some kindling, the fires of passion were quickly snuffed out by the Catholic authorities in the area, a formula which would strike a familiar tone throughout every society controlled by Catholic authoritarianism.
As Christianity spread under the umbrella of Catholicism, more and more societies which were previously polygamous began converting to monogamy as the status quo with polygamy being practiced as an exception to the rule. As more generations were born into societies where polygamy was slowly being phased out, monogamy began to gain a significant foothold in western cultures throughout all of what we call the dark ages or the medieval period of European history. We’ll spare deconstructing marriage culture throughout this time because it covers so many disparate times and geographies separating so many different cultures, most of which were absorbed into the Roman Catholic empire which was staunchly opposed to polygamy in most areas at most times.
These free-love Christian groups would heavily influence the Christians of the Moravian church or the Unitas Fratrum, the Unity of Brethren. The Wesley brothers would come into contact with a German Moravian named Peter Bohler around 1736 and would subsequently have incredible spiritual experiences in various tavern meetings and gatherings on Oxford campus, coming to be known as the “Holy Club”. The Wesley brothers would create their own religion in the wake of the Holy Club disbanding which came to be known as Methodism. This would slowly spread to America in the 1760s, which had profound Protestant impacts on the burgeoning populations in the colonies.
That was a bit of a fast-forward, to what we’ll discuss in the Protestant Reformation. Before getting ahead of ourselves, let’s discuss polygamy in a culture and belief system which has historically been very friendly to polygamy, Islam. Islam, like every other religion, is a product of its time and the society from whence it arose. The founding prophet of Islam, Muhammed, was a rampant polygamist and we can learn some interesting things about ancient Islamic culture through viewing the circumstances surrounding his multiple marriages.
For starters, the Quran permits and even tacitly commands Muslims to practice polygamy. In Surah 4 titled an-Nisaa known as the women’s surah named after one of the prophet’s wives, we find passages such as this relating to what Allah sees as legitimate marriage, and I’m reading this from the Sahih international translation, you’ll find a link to Surah 4 in the show notes.
“3 And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].”
25 And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom your right hands possess of believing slave girls. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable.
34 Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
129 And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah - then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.”
I found an interesting article about Polygamy in Islam hosted on al-islam.org and I’ll simply quote from it to discuss a moderate and nuanced stance on polygamy, after which I’ll quote later passages from the same article in dealing with Muhammed’s many wives.
Based on such verses, certain Muslim governments (like Iran and Egypt) regulate the provision of polygyny: the person who intends to marry a second wife has to seek approval from the family court and prove the need for a second wife and the ability of providing for both in an adequate manner.
Islam is a practical religion; its laws are in line with human nature. It does not deny the natural forces in humans, rather it confronts them and provides guidance to control them without disrupting the peace in society.
Almost all Western governments have forbidden polygamy; but adultery is most rampant in these very countries. In spite of all attempts to promote monogamous relationships, many married men have mistresses or are involved in extra-marital affairs resulting in higher divorce rates, broken families and children growing up without fathers. And such kind of behaviour has also touched the highest offices —religious as well as secular— of the United States of America.
If a man wants to fool around, Islam will hold him responsible and tie him down to duties towards that “second wife” and her children. Ira Lurvey, of the Family Law section of American Bar Association said, “We are going from monogamy to something called serial monogamy and we have no rules and guidelines; we’re groping in the dark for how to conduct our lives”.
Well, in Islam, you do not need to grope in the dark; Islam has given clear guidelines on all kinds of relationships: monogamy to polygamy.”
Of course, it’s well known that Muhammed took multiple wives, and each of his ten wives are explained in this same article. It lists that Muhammed remained unmarried for the first 25 years of his life, then from 25 to 50 had his first wife, Khadija. But once he hits 50, he marries ten more wives in 13 years. There’s no way to know of Muhammed’s other relations beyond these wives as warlords like him were often wont to have sex with many women without marrying them, and there’s also no way to know just how many women he raped in his many military conquests. Muslim apologists will claim that Muhammed only had relations with the women he married as all good prophets do, but there is simply no evidence to substantiate such an astonishing claim. Muhammed was a wealthy man and took the spoils of war to add to his many possessions, including women. People will also claim that his youngest wife, Lady Aisha, was merely 9 years old when he married her, but he waited until she was of age to have sex with her. There is a hot dispute in Muslim circles about her actual age at the time of marriage and I don’t know if there’s any way to truly substantiate whether or not she was 9 years old when he married her, however, the article from which I’m taking a lot of this polygamy in Islam information puts her age at 18 when they married. It is clearly written by an Islam apologist who is uncomfortable with the founding prophet of Islam being a pedophile.
Needless to say, the majority of Muhammed’s subsequent marriages were done for political purposes to make peace or business transactions with other tribes. Others, like Lady Umm Habibah, were taken in as Muhammed’s wife because their families were opposed to Islam and these wives were loyal to the prophet, justifying said marriage. Another wife, Lady Safiyyah was taken as a prisoner after the battle of Khaybar and was joined to Muhammed as a wife, thus keeping in line with the Abrahamic tradition of taking women as property from the spoils of war.
It wouldn’t be until the 20th century when largely Muslim countries would begin to outlaw or restrict polygyny. From the Polygyny in Islam wiki page, much of which was taken from Sumbul Ali-Karamali in her 2008 article “The Muslim Next Door”:
Countries that ban polygyny:
Turkey was the first Muslim country to legally ban polygyny in 1926. This decision was not based on religious reasons, but rather was an entirely secular ban. Tunisia was the next country to ban polygyny through legislation passed in 1956 and restated in 1964. Unlike Turkey, Tunisia banned polygyny on religious grounds, citing two main reasons. First, the Quran limited the practice of polygyny, thus it did not support the practice and clearly intended for the practice to be eliminated over time. Second, the Quran demands equal treatment of all wives in a polygynous marriage, which is impossible, thus making the practice illegal. Finally, Israel banned polygyny as well by 1978.
Countries that restrict polygyny
The following countries restrict the practice of polygyny:
Iran (1967, 1975)
Some countries, including India, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, and Kuwait, allow women to include a clause prohibiting polygyny in marriage contracts. Other countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, require that a man get permission to take a second wife from his first wife, and then show the court proof of his first wife's consent. Finally, countries such as Malaysia state that a man must get permission from both his wife and from the governmental religious authority in order to take a second.
Although many countries have laws restricting or banning polygyny, it is still practiced illegally. It is difficult to enforce anti-polygyny laws and restrictions in countries with large rural populations. Furthermore, illegal polygyny often occurs in countries with poor social services as women rely on husbands to support them in these situations.”
It’s worth noting that these restrictions were put in place for a reason, because polygamy was the status quo. If there’s one central point to take away from everything we’re discussing is that polygamy used to be far more prevalent than it is today. Polygamy was the de-facto societal norm, monogamy is the new kid on the block historically speaking. It’s tough to attribute the 20th-century attack on polygamy to one thing, but it may have been due to the influx of globalization with the advent air travel. Prior to the 20th century, it was hard to know what society was like on the other side of the globe, making it a challenge to impose one society’s morals on another if they weren’t geographically adjacent. Once people were able to quickly travel the world and mingle with people in other societies, it became much easier to understand differences in society and push change one way or another.
At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, one thing worth pointing out is the kind of people who were first able to travel over air, the wealthy in western societies, which were largely dominated by Christian ideals of monogamy being the superior family structure. Once wealthy Christians could travel to new worlds quickly and mingle with the wealthy elites of other societies, it’s understandable that a healthy exchange of ideas would occur in casual conversation. I’ll spare using names in lieu of creating a purely hypothetical situation, but picture this if you will and please suspend writing it off as conspiracy theory rationale and therefore invalid.
A wealthy monogamous Christian hops on a plane in the 1950s and travels to third-world Iraq or Bangladesh, or whatever largely Muslim country where polygyny was the status quo for the wealthiest in society. This Christian meets with other affluent individuals in this society worlds apart from the Western society they left and sees polygyny in practice. They see polygamy in general to be anathema to God’s will so they either speak up about it and share their ideas with the other people with whom they’re mingling, or they return home to their western society and report what they saw. Their other monogamous Christian friends now know that other societies are practicing what they see as an abomination and they all seek to take actions to push legal restrictions on marriage practices in these other countries. It sounds conspiratorial when we ascribe malice to the wealthy Christians who can afford air travel to proselyte to other societies, but if we remove malice and view it merely as spreading ideas they consider to be righteous, it changes from being conspiracy to simply logical. Once you add up the millions of people able to quickly travel and the billions of small conversations with other affluent people they’ve had over the past 100 years, one would be strained to claim there has been no societal impact on largely polygamous societies. I would simply argue that the influx of regulations outlawing polygamy in cultures where it was viewed as standard practice or not immoral in the 20th and 21st centuries is the product of this massive Christian proselyting against polygamy on a world-wide scale.
The point I’m driving towards is that Christianity didn’t reserve its fight against polygamy to the 20th century. Powerful versions of Christianity have been putting their thumb on the scale in favor of monogamy since the rise of Catholic political power.
When we view small societies practicing polygamy after the protestant reformation, we can see that one of the primary issues the Catholic church has taken with these societies is their liberal stance on marriage. Prior to the Protestant reformation, Catholicism had controlled who could and couldn’t marry as well as all divorce proceedings in the Western world.
Our examination of polygamous societies now leads us to discussing a number of small free-thinking Christian societies which cropped up out of the Protestant reformation.
We begin with the forefather of the reformation, Martin Luther. On 13 January 1524, Martin Luther wrote a letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck which has become the hallmark Luther stance on polygamy. The historical issue with this letter is it was given in reply to a petition asking Luther about the divinity of taking another wife when a man’s wife was unable to bear him children. Essentially, a man’s wife couldn’t have sex with him because of some unknown illness and Luther’s colleague, Carlstadt, gave broad license to the man to practice bigamy for the purpose of bearing children. Luther weighed in with his scriptural analysis with this passage in his letter.
“I, for my part, admit I can raise no objection if a man wishes to take several wives since Holy Scripture does not forbid this; but I should not like to see this example introduced amongst Christians. ... It does not beseem Christians to seize greedily and for their own advantage on every thing to which their freedom gives them a right. . . . No Christian surely is so God-forsaken as not to be able to practice continence when his partner, owing to the Divine dispensation, proves unfit for matrimony. Still, we may well let things take their course"
An alternate translation sheds a bit more light on Luther’s stance. You can find an article in the show notes discussing the historical context for this letter exchange as well as a number of other Luther quotes wherein he tacitly approves of but disagrees with the utility of polygamy.
“The prince ought to ask the bigamist, 'Have you obeyed your conscience directed by God's word?' If he replies: 'It is by Carlstadt,' or some other, the prince has nothing more to object; for he has no right to disquiet or hush the inward voice of that man, or decide in a matter entirely within the jurisdiction of him who, according to Zacharias, is commissioned to explain the divine law. For my part, I confess that I do not see how I can prevent polygamy; there is not in the sacred texts the least word against those who take several wives at one time; but there are many things permissible that ought not becomingly to be done: of these is bigamy”
Martin Luther was but one example of theologians leading into the enlightenment with softened stances on marriage and polygamy. He was a bible scholar, he had to be in order to translate the first people’s bible not controlled by the Catholic church, so he knew the bible through and through and he was right when he said that holy scripture does not forbid polygamy. It seems as if he understood the implications of polygamy and how society treated women in polygynous relationships, so with the alternate translation when he said “but there are many things permissible that ought not becomingly to be done” meaning bigamy or polygamy, it was a nuanced perspective.
That being said, I have to point out the world from whence the Protestant Reformation rose. Europe was dominated by Catholicism which was strictly monogamous. To say this cultural bias didn’t factor into Luther’s nuanced perspective would be arbitrary and fallacious. Everything Luther wrote was in response to society under Catholic control, before the reformation he was an Augustinian friar and we know Saint Augustine’s stance on marriage was nothing but vitriol against polygamy. Luther couldn’t find any scriptural reference condemning polygamy, but his society all around was strictly monogamous, so he would be hard-pressed to see a successful society which did practice polygamy. We have to parse out these biases.
In the heat of the Protestant reformation a mere 300 Km from Luther’s birth and death place came the Munster Rebellion. The Munster Rebellion came in opposition to the recently emplaced Lutheran magistrates who governed the city of Westphalia. Bernard Rothmann and Bernard Knipperdolling published anti-Catholicism pamphlets seen as radical even by Lutheran standards which called for communalism and redistribution of wealth. One of the chief ways the leadership of the Munster Rebellion gained female followers was due to their proselyting tactics. They would actively seek out Catholic convents and nunneries preaching free-love and communalism to them, appealing to their carnal natures of sex drive and resource hunger, and these people would convert to the radical new form of Protestantism and move to Munster to live among the others in the rebel cause. After the initial siege of the city in April of 1534, Jon Matthys, the leader of the cause, was killed, beheaded, and his genitals were reportedly nailed to the city gate. His successor, Jon Van Leiden, claimed to receive a revelation from God which deemed him the rightful successor to the rebel cause and he quickly instated the widespread practice of polygamy.
Some reports claim there were as much as three times as many women as men in Munster at this time. I don’t know if there’s any way to substantiate that claim as it seems to be a frequent justification for polygamy regardless of truthfulness, but Jon Van Leiden subsequently took 16 wives for himself. In spite of their claims of fairness and communal property, it was primarily just the religious elites who were able to practice polygamy having the resources to sustain multiple marriages. In summer of 1535 the city fell to Catholic resistance and Jon van Leiden and two Bernards were executed, but not before they were hoisted up in small cages for the whole city to see in the steeple of St. Lambert’s church.
The Catholic opposition to the Munster rebellion shouldn’t be ascribed to polygamy alone. The leaders of the rebellion were heavily reliant on personal revelation based on biblical principles, which inevitably amounts to a decline in power and influence by the largest institution which claimed to be God’s emissaries. When a Pope claims to speak for God and another group of people come along saying they speak for God as well, that’s a threat to the overpowering Catholic power dynamic which was already threatened with the rise of the Protestant Reformation in its infancy.
The Munster rebellion sparked a fire set to consume Catholic control over the rest of Europe as the enlightenment slowly gained a foothold. In a world decreasingly controlled by Catholic religious dicta, free-thinking and philosophy could flourish with only marginal limitation.
John Dee was one of the enlightenment’s greatest philologists and students of a wide plethora of schools of study. Once he graduated from Cambridge in 1546 Dee began a tireless study of everything from mathematics and astrology to botany and alchemy. He served as personal advisor to Queen Elizabeth I who had been imprisoned for being a supporter of Protestantism and the Protestant rebel cause.
John Dee purportedly had the largest library of any institution in England and was known as one of the smartest people alive in his day. He would spend hours upon hours investigating practical as well as spiritual alchemy and many other occult practices and in 1582 he teamed up with a man by the name of Edward Kelley and began frequent bouts of drug induced spiritual pursuits of knowledge. Edward Kelley was adept in the use of seer-stones to hunt for buried treasure and had a terrible reputation as a counterfeiter. Throughout these various seances, Edward Kelley was known as John Dee’s personal prophet or seer and they spent much of their time attempting to translate the Enochian language which was channeled through Kelley. Modernly we would call this a drug induced glossolalia to which Dee was trying to translate into English or Latin. During one of their seances, Kelley gave Dee a divine revelation that they should share all their possessions in common, including their wives. This had a few profound impacts. Dee was rather wealthy, not necessarily in liquid cash, but in possessions. His library was full of valuable books and trinkets acquired from all over the world. Dee also had a nice 23-year-old wife. She bore a son, thought to be Kelleys, which John Dee raised as his own. Kelley and Dee parted ways soon after the son’s birth.
The reason Edward Kelley and John Dee are relevant is Dee was basically the foremost scholar on Occult practices and the Enochian language, which Joseph Smith would emulate in his own way. These people and other students of similar philosophies Joseph likely revered for their research into alchemy and occultism. When your heroes practice wife-swapping and free-love, it’s hard not to see it as acceptable or even divinely inspired, regardless of the need to keep it underground because monogamy had become the only legally sanctioned form of marriage.
Monogamy has become the status quo throughout the western world over the past 1800 years, but it hasn’t been without its detractors. Free-love, wife-swapping, nudist, polygamous, and all kinds of communities have existed in small samples, seemingly erupting spontaneously out of an inhospitable world dominated by a single genre of religion which would prefer to see monogamy flourish, and go to great length to suppress or silence these small groups.
With the advent of the printing press and these communities cropping up everywhere throughout Europe and America, the previous stranglehold the Catholic church and other orthodox Protestant Christian sects had on monogamy and their ability to suppress these groups quickly waned. With the increased prevalence of the enlightenment infecting societies, feminist and free-love writers and poets like William Blake emerged, repeatedly condemning marriage as a form of slavery.
What is the most moral form of marriage? The answer to that question seems wholly dependent on the specific religious beliefs of a specific demographic, so maybe there is no actual answer. There was a study recently published in the March 2011 Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior which examined the utility of polygamy vs. monogamy, specifically assessing which form of marriage is more successful in raising offspring. That has always been a go-to argument for justifying polygamy, to raise up seed unto this generation so the study took a hard look at the data and the findings are interesting, but not surprising when you think about it.
Here’s a few extracts from an article covering the study on LiveScience.com
“Mormons make an excellent test case for evolutionary biologists for two reasons, Wade said. First, they keep precise genealogical records. Second, Mormons are a rare example of a group of people who changed their mating practices. In 1862, Congress made polygamy illegal in U.S. territories, including the Mormon stronghold of Utah. In 1890, the Mormon church issued a declaration ending the practice. Of married Utah men born in 1833, almost 18 percent had multiple wives, Wade and his colleagues estimate. By a few decades later, less than 1 percent of married men were in polygamous relationships.
"Here with this single population there's a change, an externally driven change, in the system of mating from polygamous to monogamous," Wade said. "And even better, nothing else changes. They don't change their lifestyle, they don't change what they eat, or where they live."
The researchers decided to find out how the change affected the evolutionary pressures on Mormon men and women, particularly sexual selection, in which there is competition between males (or females) to win a mate. It's this pressure that explains a male peacock's glitzy tail. Polygamy exacerbates such sexual selection. After all, for every man with five wives, there are four men with no wives at all. Thus, the multiple-wife system separates men into those with huge amounts of offspring and those with no children at all.”
“Unsurprisingly, the men who acquired lots of wives also produced more children. For each additional spouse, a man could expect about six more kids. Each wife in the relationship could expect to produce an average of one fewer child for every additional wife.
When polygamy was outlawed, the reproductive gap between successful polygamous men and wife-less singletons plummeted by 58 percent, the researchers found.
"If you only have one partner, the maximum [number of offspring] for the male is going to be the same as the maximum for the females," Wade said. So the end of polygamy brought the genders into line, he said. "The variation from one male to the next with monogamy becomes almost equal to the variation from one woman to the next with monogamy."
So, this study seemed to point out that monogamy is more successful at raising more children, an unsurprising finding in my opinion. If you have one man who’s supporting 10 wives and 30 children, chances are they will be less successful that 10 men supporting 10 wives with 3 children each, making it more possible for each family to raise more than 3 children. It also widens the sample of genes included in the community gene pool, which increases likelihood of reproductive success. If raising more offspring is more moral, than monogamy is the more moral system of marriage. However, considering the vast overpopulation of the planet already, I would argue that raising more children in a world with millions or possibly billions of people starved for resources is an incredibly immoral thing to do, making polygamy the more moral form of marriage when only considering the single metric of number of offspring.
There are so many ways to cut marriage and morality. This has only been an analysis of what is and has been, not what ought to be, because I don’t think there’s a solid and concise answer to that great question: “What is the most moral form of marriage?”. To wrap things up for us today, I hope you’ll permit me a reading of William Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
I loved Theotormon
And I was not ashamed
I trembled in my virgin fears
And I hid in Leutha's Vale!
I plucked Leutha's flower,
And I rose up from the vale;
But the terrible thunders tore
My virgin mantle in twain.
Enslav'd, the Daughters of Albion weep; a trembling lamentation
Upon their mountains; in their valleys, sighs towards America.
For the soft soul of America, Oothoon wanderd in woe,
Along the vales of Leutha seeking flowers to comfort her;
And thus she spoke to the bright Marygold of Leutha's vale
Art thou a flower! art though a nymph! I see thee now a flower;
Now a nymph! I dare not pluck thee from thy dewy bed!
The Golden nymph replied; pluck thou my flower Oothoon the mild
Another flower shall spring. because the soul of sweet delight
Can never pass away, she ceas'd & closed her golden shrine.
Then Oothoon pluck'd the flower saying, I pluck thee from thy bed
Sweet flower. and put thee here to glow between my breasts
And thus I turn to where my whole soul seeks.
Over the waves she went in wing'd exulting swift delight;
And over Theotormon's reign, took her impetuous course.
Bromion rent her with his thunders. on his stormy bed
Lay the faint maid, and soon her woes apalld his thunders hoarse
Bromion spoke. behold this harlot here on Bromions bed.
And let the jealous dolphins sport around the lovely maid:
Thy soft American plains are mine, and mine thy north & south:
Stampt with my signet are the swarthy children of the sun;
They are obedient, they resist not, they obey the scourge:
Their daughters worship terrors and obey the violent:
Now thou maist marry Bromions harlot, and protect the child
Of Bromions rage, that Oothoon shall put forth in nine moons time
Then storms rent Theotormons limbs; he rolld his waves around.
And folded his black jealous waters round the adulterate pair
Bound back to back in Bromions caves terror & meekness dwell
At entrance Theotormon sits wearing the threshold hard
With secret tears; beneath him sound like waves on a desart shore
The voice of slaves beneath the sun, and children bought with money,
That shiver in religious caves beneath the burning fores
Of lust, that belch incessant from the summits of the earth
Oothoon weeps not. she cannot weep! her tears are locked up;
But she can howl incessant writhing her soft snowy limbs.
And calling Theotormons Eagles to prey upon her flesh.
I call with holy voice! kings of the sounding air,
Rend away this defiled bosom that I may reflect,
The image of Theotormon on my pure transparent breast.
The Eagles at her call descend & rend their bleeding prey;
Theotormon severely smiles. Her soul reflects the smile;
As the clear spring muddled with feet of beasts grows pure & smiles
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, & eccho back her sighs.
Why does Theotormon sit weeping upon the threshold:
And Oothoon hovers by his side, perswading him in vain:
I cry arise O Theotormon for the village dog
Barks at the breaking day. the nightingale has done lamenting
The lark does rustle in the ripe corn, and the Eagle returns
From nightly prey, and lifts his golden beak to the pure east;
Shaking the dust from his immortal points to awake
The sun that sleeps too long. Arise my Theotormon I am pure.
Because the night is gone that closed me in its deadly black.
They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;
They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up.
And they inclos'd my infinite brain into a narrow circle,
And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning
Till all from life I was obliterated and erased.
Instead of morn arises a bright shadow, like an eye
In the eastern cloud: instead of night a sickly charnel house;
That Theotormon hears me not! to him the night and morn
Are both alike: A night of sighs, a morning of fresh tears;
And none but Bromion can hear my lamentations.
With what sense is it that the chicken shuns the ravenous hawk?
With what sense does the tame pigeon measure out the expanse?
With what sense does the bee form cells? have not the mouse & frog
Eyes and ears and sense of touch? yet are their habitations.
And their pursuits, as different as their forms and as their joys:
Ask the wild ass why he refuses burdens: and the meek camel
Why he loves man: is it because of eye ear mouth or skin
Or breathing nostrils? No, for these the wolf and tyger have.
Ask the blind worm the secrets of the grave, and why her spires
Love to curl round the bones of death! and ask the rav'nous snake
Where she gets poison: & the wing'd eagle why he loves the sun
And then tell me the thoughts of man, which have been hid of old.
Silent I hover all the night, and all day could be silent,
If Theotormon once would turn his loved eyes upon me;
How can I be defild when I reflect my image pure?
Sweetest the fruit that the worms feeds on. & the soul prey'd on by woe,
The new wash'd lamb ting'd with the village smoke & the bright swan
By the red earth of our immortal river: I bathe my wings,
And I am white and pure to hover round Theotormons breast.
Then Theotormon broke his silence, and he answered.
Tell me what is the night or day to one o'erflowd with woe?
Tell me what is a thought? & of what substance is it made?
Tell me what is a joy? & in what gardens do joys grow?
And in what rivers swim the sorrows? and upon what mountains
Wave shadows of discontent? and in what houses dwell the wretched
Drunken with a woe forgotten. and shut up from cold despair,
Tell me where dwell the thoughts forgotten till thou call them forth
Tell me where dwell the joys of old! & where the ancient loves?
And when will they renew again & the night of oblivion past?
That I might traverse times and spaces far remote and bring
Comforts into a pre[s]ent sorrow and a night of pain
Where goest thou O thought! to what remote land is thy flight?
If thou returnest to the present moment of affliction
Wilt thou bring comforts on thy wings, and dews and honey and balm;
Or poison from the desart wilds, from the eyes of the envier.
Then Bromion said: and shook the cavern with his lamentation
Thou knowest that the ancient trees seen by thy eyes have fruit;
But knowest thou that trees and fruit flourish upon the earth
To gratify senses unknown? trees beasts and birds unknown:
Unknown, not unperceived, spread in the infinite microscope,
In places yet unvisited by the voyager. and in worlds
Over another kind of seas, and in atmospheres unknown.
Ah! are there other wars, beside the wars of sword and fire!
And are there other sorrows, beside the sorrows of poverty?
And are there other joys, beside the joys of riches and ease?
And is there not one law for both the lion and the ox?
And is there not eternal fire, and eternal chains?
To bind the phantoms of existence from eternal life?
Then Oothoon waited silent all the day, and all the night,
But when the morn arose, her lamentation renewd,
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, & eccho back her sighs.
O Urizen! Creator of men! mistaken Demon of heaven;
Thy joys are tears! thy labour vain, to form men to thine image.
How can one absorb another? are not different joys
Holy, eternal, infinite! and each joy is a Love.
Does not the great mouth laugh at a gift? & the narrow eyelids mock
At the labour that is above payment, and wilt thou take the ape
For thy councellor? or the dog. for a schoolmaster to thy children?
Does he who contemns poverty, and he who turns with abhorrence
From usury: feel the same passion or are they moved alike?
How can the giver of gifts experience the delights of the merchant?
How the industrious citizen the pains of the husbandman.
How different far the fat fed hireling with hollow drum;
Who buys whole corn fields into wastes, and sings upon the heath:
How different their eye and ear! how different the world to them!
With what sense does the parson claim the labour of the farmer?
What are his nets & gins & traps, & how does he surround him
With cold floods of abstraction, and with forests of solitude,
To build him castles and high spires, where kings & priests may dwell.
Till she who burns with youth, and knows no fixed lot; is bound
In spells of law to one she loaths: and must she drag the chain
Of life, in weary lust! must chilling murderous thoughts, obscure
The clear heaven of her eternal spring! to bear the wintry rage
Of a harsh terror driv'n to madness, bound to hold a rod
Over her shrinking shoulders all the day; and all the night
To turn the wheel of false desire: and longings that wake her womb
To the abhorred birth of cherubs in the human form
That live a pestilence & die a meteor & are no more.
Till the child dwell with one he hates, and do all the deeds he loaths
And the impure scourge force his seed into its unripe birth
E'er yet his eyelids can behold the arrows of the day.
Does the whale worship at thy footsteps as the hungry dog?
Or does he scent the mountain prey, because his nostrils wide
Draw in the ocean? does his eye discern the flying cloud
As the ravens eye? or does he measure the expanse like the vulture?
Does the still spider view the cliffs where eagles hide their young?
Or does the fly rejoice, because the harvest is brought in?
Does not the eagle scorn the earth & despise the treasures beneath?
But the mole knoweth what is there, & the worm shall tell it thee.
Does not the worm erect a pillar in the mouldering church yard?
And a palace of eternity in the jaws of the hungry grave
Over his porch these words are written. Take thy bliss O Man!
And sweet shall be thy taste & sweet thy infant joys renew!
Infancy, fearless, lustful, happy! nestling for delight
In laps of pleasure; Innocence! honest, open, seeking
The vigorous joys of morning light; open to virgin bliss.
Who taught thee modesty, subtil modesty! child of night & sleep
When thou awakest. wilt thou dissemble all thy secret joys
Or wert thou not awake when all this mystery was disclos'd!
Then com'st thou forth a modest virgin knowing to dissemble
With nets found under thy night pillow, to catch virgin joy,
And brand it with the name of whore: & sell it in the night,
In silence, ev'n without a whisper, and in seeming sleep,
Religious dream and holy vespers, light thy smoky fires:
Once were thy fires lighted by the eyes of honest morn
And does my Theotormon seek this hypocrite modesty!
This knowing, artful, secret. fearful, cautious, trembling hypocrite.
Then is Oothoon a whore indeed! and all the virgin joys
Of life are harlots: and Theotormon is a sick mans dream
And Oothoon is the crafty slave of selfish holiness.
But Oothoon is not so, a virgin fill'd with virgin fancies
Open to joy and to delight where ever beauty appears
If in the morning sun I find it; there my eyes are fix'd
In happy copulation; if in evening mild, wearied with work;
Sit on a bank and draw the pleasures of this free born joy.
The moment of desire! the moment of desire! The virgin
That pines for man; shall awaken her womb to enormous joys
In the secret shadows of her chamber; the youth shut up from
The lustful joy, shall forget to generate, & create an amorous image
In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow.
Are not these the places of religion? the rewards of continence!
The self enjoyings of self denial? Why dost thou seek religion?
Is it because acts are not lovely, that thou seekest solitude,
Where the horrible darkness is impressed with reflections of desire.
Father of Jealousy, be thou accursed from the earth!
Why hast thou taught my Theotormon this accursed thing?
Till beauty fades from off my shoulders darken'd and cast out,
A solitary shadow wailing on the margin of non-entity.
I cry, Love! Love! Love! happy happy Love! free as the mountain wind!
Can that be Love, that drinks another as a sponge drinks water?
That clouds with jealousy his nights, with weepings all the day:
To spin a web of age around him, grey and hoary! dark!
Till his eyes sicken at the fruit that hangs before his sight.
Such is self-love that envies all! a creeping skeleton
With lamplike eyes watching around the frozen marriage bed.
But silken nets and traps of adamant will Oothoon spread,
And catch for the girls of mild silver, or of furious gold;
I'll lie beside thee on a bank & view their wanton play
In lovely copulation bliss on bliss with Theotormon;
Red as the rosy morning, lustful as the first born beam,
Oothoon shall view his dear delight, nor e'er with jealous cloud
Come in the heavens of generous love; nor selfish blightings bring.
Does the sun walk in glorious raiment, on the secret floor
Where the cold miser spreads his gold? or does the bright cloud drop
On his stone threshold? does his eye behold the beam that brings
Expansion to the eye of pity? or will he bind himself
Beside the ox to thy hard furrow? does not that mild beam blot
The bat, the owl, the glowing tyger, and the king of night.
The sea fowl takes the wintry blast. for a cov'ring to her limbs:
And the wild snake, the pestilence to adorn him with gems & gold.
And trees. & birds. & beasts, & men. behold their eternal joy.
Arise you little glancing wings, and sing your infant joy!
Arise and drink your bliss. For everything that lives is holy!
Thus every morning wails Oothoon. but Theotormon sits
Upon the margind ocean conversing with shadows dire,
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, & eccho back her sighs.
Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 11/24/2017"