Monday, May 14, 2007

the rumors of my dearth have been greatly exaggerated

In her book, A History of Celibacy: from Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, & Cher, Canadian, Elizabeth Abbott purports to trace the groups and individuals who are part of a timeless phenomenon that transcends culture and religion; but it seemed from her introduction that she had a tendency to accept common wisdom as fact which i found just a bit tedious, and it seemed to throw much of the otherwise highly interesting subject matter into debate. I learned many things, and came up with many items that i wanted to research further~but even though i love her voice and tone, and she does have many, many anecdotes to tell, i'm not sure how much authority to give her (then again~can i quote all the sources for the "facts" i have swimming around in my mind~the ones i read, more than one place, but somewhere, i can quote some of them, but not all~and what authority do i give them?).

The history starts off with classical antiquity (what Abbot calls Divine Pagan Celibacy), moves on through early and later Christianity (which rather predictably~or not? seems to deify celibacy and defile sexuality), with a quick overview of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the ritual celibacy of shamans and the virgin Priestesses of the South Americans (apparently Judaism and Islam have no such celibate traditions~except pre-marital).

Beyond religion Abbott covers other interesting territory with various abstenance campaigns and "scientific" theories. She also discusses enforced celibacy both external forces and those that may be more internal. I'm not sure i'm willing to buy into the legend that Elizabeth I remained a virgin throughout her lifetime as Abbott seems to (though, as she points out, assignations would be particularly difficult to hide in the royal court of the day).
Celibacy, of course, has always meant different things to different people~for some it is avoiding the very thought of anything to do with the human body~including avoiding touching oneself~even to wash, to others only the act of carnal penetration (any Clintonites out there?) really counts. I lie somewhere in between... I learned a few things, vestal virgins only committed to thirty years not a lifetime (as if that were a HUGE difference), lost some respect for Gandhi (he was definitely a "player"~using women emotionally if not physically~and is one sin so very much worse than the other???), and overall found the book quite interesting.

One of the more interesting aspects of some celibacy campaigns (and very few at that), at least to my mind, is the oppurtunity afforded by celibacy for self-discovery: the idea that when one lets go of sex, and the drive for sex a whole new world opens up and you realize how much more there is to life. It seems to me in reading this book, though, that many celibacy advocates are still limited by sex, still seeing the world through the sex-drive. I find it slightly ironic in fact, that the very subject of celibacy itself is all about sexuality~but then again~how to get away from that?

This was one of those gems that i discovered whilst weeding~it came up on my list because it hadn't circulated in over two years, and it looked interesting to me~at least now that i've checked it out i've saved it for another cycle or so...

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