In the coming months I would like to publish some blogs about religious living in religious matters. I think it is important to put the official religions in some perspective, so that fanatism will leave and people can see that some traditions are not holy at all, for example the question of circumcision, a hot topic in Europe at the moment. Medical doctors are more and more objecting to perform the operation and are warning for all kinds of complications of bleeding, infection, narrowing of the urethra, incontinence, sexual problems later and not to mention the pain a boy suffers. I fear that this will not change the minds of people who are convinced of the religious value of the act of circumcision. What could help to change the minds is to see where and how circumcision originated. Where does it come from and how did it come about?
Of course, believers will mention and cite their holy books or traditions. But I think it's good for the debate when we bring some historical depth to it. I am a supporter of religion-relativization. which means that we are going to see religions in relation to their origin and historical context.
In the early times of our human evolution on earth, man was not yet aware of the role of men in the development of a child. Like the animals were children with the mother and the men were only occasionally present and lived separately. It was thought at that time that a child was made from the blood of the mother. No one knew how long pregnancy lasted, but they knew that the menstrual blood at that time was held. Even someone like Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote that human life is made from the coagulum, the rennet of menstrual blood. (Aristotle, The Generation of Animals, 1.19; 727b) In the first century, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23-79) writes that babies are made of "clotted menstrual blood.” Hence menstrual blood in those times was holy. Also by men this blood was considered as the essence of life. So the bloodlines were in the beginning matrilineal, so the mother was the most important.
In the ancient creation myths, man is made of clay which is then mixed with menstrual blood. We find in the Genesis story that Adam was created from clay, but the blood was omitted, as befits a patriarchal religion. In the beginning of patriarchy, when men rose up against their subordinate role to the women and claimed the power, goddesses changed into gods. The ancient goddess worship was eliminated. That this was not entirely successful, is demonstrated by the prominence of Mary within Christianity.
In this transition period, we see that men and their gods castrated themselves, to bring forth genital blood too. We see that in many cultures of those times. We have evidence that the Egyptian god Ra was castrated, the Mexican Quetzalcoatl and the Hindu god Mahadeva. The Babylonian god Bel or Baal castrated himself and mixed his blood with clay to suggest he could produce humans and animals. Also Uranus, the father of heaven, was castrated by his son Kronos / Saturn and produced so a new incarnation of the virgin Aphrodite / Urania.
The men said, as it were: "we turn the whole thing around. We are the creative sex." We could call it a kind of masculine jealousy or aping of female blood magic and power in times they did not understand that the male seed had a fertilizing role in the human creative process. In the beginning there was no penis envy, but vulva envy!
From castration to circumcision
The castration which incidentally also a church father Origen performed (4th century) himself, changed later in the circumcision of boys. This took already place in ancient Egypt and was seen as a modified version of the first menstruation of girls. It was a big celebration. The boys were on their way to the circumcision rite dressed as girls. In an ancient tribe in Australia, the Arunta, the circumcision of the man was called the menstruation of the man and wound was called the vagina. The Germanic god Odin was also called eunuch and his priests had to possess a high degree of femininity.
The Jews took the circumcision over from the Egyptians (did not Moses come from Egypt?) and moved it to a younger age. Moses' wife even resisted against circumcision (see Exodus 4.25), but under threats that Yahweh would kill her son, she cut the skin of the baby, threw it at his feet and called her husband a bloody husband. Bloody or bloodthirsty spouse is often translated into the mysterious word blood husband (!) She threw it at his feet (in translations often translated as: ‘and she touched his feet’). How translations can mislead. In the Good News Bible we read the free and correct translation: ‘only through blood I can keep you as a husband’. Foreskins were increasingly seen as offerings. In the biblical book of I Samuel 18, 27 we read that when David defeated the Philistines he took home two hundred foreskins that he offered to the king as a dowry, after which he was allowed to marry his daughter.
This whole patriarchal worship of blood is included in the story of Jesus. Jesus' foreskin will in later times become a beloved relic and exhibited in many churches. (He apparently had several!)
It would be of great importance as Muslims and Jews would know of these backgrounds of circumcision and could see it as a process in the emancipation of men long time ago, which initially seem rather to be based on envy than on strength. Through such a perspective they could take the warnings of doctors serious who are indicating that they are often confronted with the harmful effects of circumcision, including bleeding, infection, narrowing of the urethra, incontinence, sexual problems later, not to mention the pain a boy suffers, even where medical anesthesia occurs because 'local anesthesia in a child's penis is very difficult’, writes a Dutch physician. Its time to realize that it is often a major medical and psychological trauma for a child, even if adults try to make a big party of it.
A related phenomenon is celibacy. In the second century church father Tertullian praised those ‘who had made themselves eunuchs because of the Kingdom of God.’ Celibacy in the Catholic Church is essential emerged from castration and the same blood source, although it is rationalized by the idea that priests should be celibate because Jesus was a celibate.
Thus we can see that if we study the origin and history of a supposedly religious phenomenon, we can relativize and deprive its from their supposed holiness. They are all old traditions from old ideas, from ignorance, transmitted from father to son and mother to daughter. Indoctrination we could clearly say.
To the extent that the patriarchal system became more dominant, and the role of the man in the creative process was perceived, the devotion to the goddess and the woman disappeared, and gave way to hostility against female. Menstrual blood became filthy and 'could obscure mirrors, wine sour, iron to rust, destroy crops, blunt beehives and destroy knives ", as we read from the Latin writer Pliny. The Jewish Talmud believed that if a menstruating woman would walk between two men, one would die. Around the world women had (and often still have to!) isolate themselves during menstruation and purify themselves after it in a ritual bath or give a so-called blood sacrifice to the male god. (Leviticus, 15, 20-30) The American writer Barbara Walker writes:
"To the extent that the blood of Christ was glorified, the original lifeblood became feared and degraded."
Orthodox Jews and Muslims still refuse to shake hands with a woman, she could have her menstruation! It can kill you! Ultimately that is also behind the refusal of the Catholic Church to consecrate women as priests. She could befoul the altar! From the seventh to the seventeenth century menstruating women were not allowed to enter the church. It was seen as a mortal sin.
In the patriarchal age and the time in which the sons of the Goddess emerged, the blood of the sons got shed and honored. The blood of the Babylonian Tammuz, the Egyptian Osiris, Dionysus, the Greek and the Christian / Jewish Jesus was shed for many. They died to achieve immortality. Their body and blood were sacramentally eaten by the faithful to get access to this divinity and immortality.
Veneration of male blood ended up in the place of worship of female blood.
The life-giving blood of the woman was imitated in the life-giving blood sacrifice of the male sons. The emphasis of early Christians and nowadays Muslims on martyrdom is rooted in the worship of blood, so jealousy! Men have unfortunately carried this bloodshed out too much by slaughtering each other- and not to forget women and children- in countless wars.
The whole concept of self-sacrifice is actually connected with this patriarchal jealousy and has in itself nothing natural. It is rather masculine toughness than that it is a natural or spiritual tendency. Why should we have to sacrifice ourselves?
‘He has released us by his blood’, is a slogan that is still heard in Protestant fundamentalist circles. According to the book of Revelation (7.14) those who have purified themselves, are the ones ‘who are washed in the blood of the Lamb’. Another text: ‘He was wearing blood-soaked clothes. His name was Word of God. ‘(Rev. 19.13) and so on and so forth.
The story of the crucifixion of Jesus is also a bloody story. All these phenomena, circumcision, castration, celibacy, crucifixion and martyrdom fit in a certain time and a certain context, in which gradually an alternation in power between men and women took place.
We are now 2000 years later. We will have to seriously question whether these phenomena still belong in this time, a time in which we seek to realize the equality of men and women in various fields. This is a fundamentally new and great evolution that asks of us to understand those ancient traditions and release them/let them go, for the sake of peace between men and women.
Riet Okken, psychologist of religion