Thursday, January 01, 2015

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            I’ve been reading medieval literature (Some of it is hardly literature.) looking for the antecedents of a religious philosophy. The late medieval period was characterized by moral tales. Some writers call them cautionary tales. Bad deeds are done; divine retribution follows. In many (probably the majority) the tales focus on the maiden gone astray. They’re usually short, probably told orally first then written. They give an interesting insight into the medieval mind and common morals.

            Many of these tales present an incestuous couple. Their lives end badly. The lesson is, “Dear Maiden, do not crave your brother or your father or your uncle.” That there are so many of these stories suggests that incest was common, but if one seeks fact beyond incidental accounts, disappointment follows. We don’t know how prevalent incest was. One writer said it was as frequent then as now. That’s a non-explanation. No one knows how prevalent it is now. A sociologist said that within the United States about thirty-thousand cases are reported each year. I mistrust the statistic, but assuming it’s near correct, one must presume many more cases. Usually an incestuous couple does not run out and shout, “I have sex with my brother and I like it!”

            I should interject the thought that I’m not writing about child-rape by a near relative. Though that is incest because of consanguinity, it is in fact rape. I’m writing of willing partners, seduced siblings.

            So we’re left with wild speculation. Your guess is as good at mine. I think. Probably. Within my medieval era family there are two known incidents of father-daughter incest. Most modern genealogies politely omit the father from the daughter’s “husband” entry. I can’t change the past, and I wouldn’t be me without these people in my ancestry. But I pretty sure I never felt sexually attracted to my father. And I never had a brother. If I had, I’d probably see him as I see most of my male first cousins: If we have a relationship, let’s have a trans-Atlantic one. You be as far from me as possible. The men in my family tend to be annoying and self-involved. They love themselves best.

            Religiously, the prevalence of incest tells us much about the Catholic Church as a purveyor of morals. It failed. This connects to my current research in several ways, none of which will find a place in volume 2, the book we’re writing now. There’s probably no need to elaborate beyond saying that a good test of religion is how deeply it affects its adherents. Medieval Christianity (including the heretical sects) gave adherents a feeling of holiness without the obligations.

            I have discussed this topic with my Coffee Mob a number of times. The results are always interesting. Within that group are at least two who had or continue an incestuous relationship. I don’t see it as my duty to call the police and inform. One of them had a continuing sexual relationship with her father through her twenties and into her mid-thirties. Distance rather than inclination ended the sex, but apparently not the feelings. She does not seem to be mentally unbalanced as a result. There is a daughter, a sweet girl who seems normal physically and mentally. The other group-member has an on-going relationship with her older brother. She’s in her early thirties. There are no children.

An unexpected Confession.

            You may find them umm distasteful. I don’t. Insane maybe. But they are my friends and they told me this in confidence. I don’t see their choices as a reason to break a friendship.

            Both of these women were raised in ‘religious’ families. The one that has sex with her brother (they share an apartment, so I imagine that’s fairly regularly.) is a friend from childhood. She has, she tells me, been having sex with her brother since she was twenty and he twenty two. It’s not as though they’re ugly and can’t get anyone else.

            Can I explain any of this? Probably not, and I won’t try. I believe that much that psychologists and sociologists write is bunk. (I’ve read a huge amount of that stuff lately.) There’s considerable denial of what seem to be obvious facts. One ‘expert’ lists only three kinds of incest. There are more than the sister-brother, mother-son, and father-daughter types he lists. I think many ‘professionals’ misstate the causes. I think they misstate the strength of the supposed incest taboo which exists more in the breach than in the keeping.

            One survey (very unscientific) suggested that three percent of Americans are incestuous at some point. This means that ten million Americans have some form of incestuous relationship in their lifetime, a figure we’re allowed to doubt. But the acutal number seems to be large in any case. Do I have a conclusion to make? No.

            I am, however, interested in the causes of inter-family attraction. One writer suggested that it was the ultimate in narcissism. Having sex with your brother is as close as one can come to having sex with self. This may be partially valid. But more realistically, one does what one cultivates in life. Not every decision is mature; not every object of affection is appropriate. But if you pursue it, dwell on it, you will do it.


  1. I suspect you will need to broaden your research disciplines if you want to get to root causes of incestuous behavior.

    I share your disdain for modern psychology and sociology, both of which have much to say about incest without saying much of anything. Much of it is out-and-out trash from the worst of Americanized academia, which into itself is filled with a massive amount of intellectual incest and an appalling lack of diversity of opinion.

    However, evolutionary psychology is a viable discipline that can yield insights into incest, simply because to identify evolutionary attributes, one has to study deviations in which incest falls under that category (deviation as a behavioral trait, not a moral judgement).

    An evolutionary psychologist will assert that there is either a lack of emotional attachment (apathy) or emotional disgust which is not so much of an "off" switch but more of the switch missing altogether.

    Think about incest for a moment from the perspective of male/female attraction: the disadvantage of genetic pairing of siblings or offspring is not readily apparent until after birth and even then, could lay hidden for more than one generation until an unwanted mutation manifested itself.

    However, pairing outside of your family, from a cultural (mementic) view, has many advantages and few disadvantages. It was an actual deviation that you married your daughter off to someone else and things got worse for your family.

    So now we have the classic case of a cultural attribute (related to tribalism) reinforcing behavior needed for optimal propagation. People didn't engage in incest simply because it didn't go anywhere beneficial. Now after generations of this behavior, when the opportunity arises to engage incest, it's just that: opportunity minus attraction. There is no attraction because there is not emotion behind noticing your sibling/parent/offspring is attractive.

    But back to the deviation: why then, when this emotional core is missing, do some people still engage in incest? Why does the sensual attraction mechanism in the brain go "click" (and if it does go "click" incest will occur, because your immediate family has the best availability).

    That answer doesn't exist, but people are poking at it. For example, if you have brothers and sisters whom are within 3 years, it's pretty rare to engage incest, but the frequency increases as the age disparity increases for the closest born sibling.

    Research such as that support environmental factors to incest that trigger the emotions that cause sensual attraction, and the best research in this area comes from evolutionary psychologists. They are the only ones standing up and saying "you all don't know anything about this, can we use the scientific method, here, please?"

  2. I know very little about life in medieval times. Most of my research has involved Errol Flynn galavanting around a forest with his merry men, but it seems to me that life in a manor house of some lord would be stifling for the children.

    A young princeling, who having discovered that playing with his own sword was pleasurable, could seek out a milk maid to help sharpen his skills. But what about his sister?

    Young ladies have strong feelings too and, unlike her brother whose dalliances were acceptable, she has no young men around who are of the same social stature for her to be seen with. What’s a young girl to do?

    If she is going to explore the pleasures of life, she has to chose from the males within her social group - uncles, cousins, brothers, or even her own father.

    My guess is that one reason arranged marriages were done at very young ages was to get the girl married off to an appropriate partner as much as it was to develop stronger ties within a group of nobles.

    All of this is speculation, but there is a logic here, and I am also speculating about our heroine, Tabitha, as well. Is she on the verge of an incestuous relationship? Knowing what we do of the author’s inclinations, I suspect that Tabitha will end up running off with a knobby kneed goat herder for an amorous adventure, while discovering some long lost secret that will return honor and prestige to her family.

  3. Ijut of Llotsoffeelin12:58 PM

    "If we have a relationship, let’s have a trans-Atlantic one. You be as far from me as possible."

    Many thanks for your kind offer (and please don't think it's not appreciated) but I must reluctantly decline. There's enough incest and rain er...incessant rain..... in my family tree as it is!