Sunday, 21 August 2011


 From ancient pagan (pantheist) cultures that reflected the multidimensional nature of humans living in nature to more modern monotheistic religious cultures that are dogmatically dichotomous relegating people to good or evil categories, food and sex and inexorably linked. In pantheistic or monotheistic culture, food and sex reflect society and human nature that in some religions, especially paganism, are deemed divine, while in others, especially in Christianity, Judaism and Islam that link celibacy to spirituality, deemed sinful except under conditions for procreation purposes.

In ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Barbarian mythology where paganism is a catalyst to culture it is evident that the individual against the background of a pantheistic universe is a reflection of God that is in essence impersonal. The inherent relativism in pantheism and the symbolism in mythology as a transcendent factor in capturing the essence of complex and contradictory aspects of human nature capture the meaning for food and sex both as rituals as well as aspects of survival. Therefore, the most basic instinct of survival requiring food and sex had transcendent significance for pagans.

In "Mythic Relfections", Joseph Campbell argues that food and sex, otherwise a part of daily routine, become sacraments through intent as the individual realizes that something that is taken for granted has universal and higher significance than the physical act itself, as it is the catalyst to life.

"When you're eating something, this is something quite special to do. But you don't know what you're doing unless you think about it. That's what a ritual does. It gives you an occasion to realize what you're doing so that you're participating in the inevitable energy of life in its exchanges. That's what rituals are for; you do things with intention, and not just in the animal way, ravenously, without knowing what you're doing. This is true also of sex. People who just engage in sex as a fun game, as something exciting like that, don't realize what they're doing. Then you don't have the sacramentalization. And the whole reason marriage is a sacrament is that it lets you know what the hell is correct and what isn't, and what's going on here. A male and female coming together with the possibility of another life coming out of it - that's a big act."

Of all species, only humans attribute higher meaning to food and sex as ritual celebrating life or sinful act manifesting the materialistic/hedonistic aspect of human nature. Where then does the difference rest between the pagan and monotheistic cultures in their treatment of sex and food as rituals that invariably influence peoples' daily routines as well? Lifestyles under pagan religions were largely shaped by the view of the multi-dimensional self, thus food and sex reflected not necessarily human nature, but peoples' collective view of human nature and the complex and multi-dimensional universe.

The concept of character flaws, or imperfections in human nature deemed as natural instead of 'sin' in paganism entails a different sense of self for pagans than for the three monotheistic religions that emerged from the Middle East - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That sense of self is directly related to how food and sex are viewed by society and thus the individual.

Given that the pagans did not duel on the dichotomy of good and evil as the monotheistic religions, and given that they believed the universe to be complex and multidimensional, their view of the self was a reflection of the universe of which they were a part and not something from which they needed to separate themselves and relegated to the category of sin or of good and evil. To some extent, Hinduism is closer to paganism on the issue of food and sex, although it is true that regional and sectarian differences play a role. Annam (food) is part of Brahman, thus food is divine. Pleasure/desire are also part of the divinity if not mystical aspect of humans. Restraint in the Buddhist tradition is closer to the monotheistic tradition that comes out of the Middle East, although the word sin (violating God's rules) is not associated with permissive behavior.

Sin is associated with food and sex as sin, original sin in the Judeo-Christian tradition, equating pleasure with loss of one's spiritual connection to God. This is just the opposite of many pagan traditions - to some degree also Indian - that celebrated with food and sex as spiritual experiences to get closer to the gods. St. Augustine and the Church fathers promoted marriage as a mechanism to foster family and procreate, not an institution in which the couple would find bliss in carnal pleasures; on the contrary, marriage was the way to avoid temptation, or unrestrained desires. What the pagans perceived as 'natural', the Christians condemned as sinful and enslavement of the soul for the sake of pleasing the body to which free will was surrendered.

If we set aside the instinct for survival and need for procreation to perpetuate the human species, both cases requiring food and sex, what then accounts for nuances in these basic human needs between cultures other than the evolution of the community shaped by everything from geography/topography and climate, namely nature, to human relationships en masse such as wars and internal conflicts that divide and/or unite people into social groups.

Worship of the fertility deities, of the mother goddess directly linked to both food and sex culture, is a reflection of a value system that shaped the mindset toward sexual mores, marriage and sex rituals inexorably linked with food and wine as part of the intoxicating experience in human pleasures of the flesh that assumed spiritual significance.

Taken from the festivals of Lupricalia where music, dance, food, and love were celebrated, Valentine's Day remains a tribute to the pagan tradition of sensual pleasures of the flesh that have transcending spiritual meaning. In the same manner so does May Day with its celebration of fertility, of the mother earth and phallic symbols - similar religious symbols are found in many pagan religions around the world as well as Hinduism. Although Christianity strictly forbade May Day celebrations, as May was sexual freedom month where marriage vows did not pertain, May Day has remained a vague celebration of nature to this day.  

Ancient Egyptians as well as Greeks celebrated spring with rites involving food, wine and sex. As far as claims of divinity associated with parthenogenesis or 'virgin birth', this was much more prevalent than people believe when they insist that the Virgin Mary was a unique case. In religious mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, we encounter 'miracle birth' or parthenogenesis, indicative of how the gods were created. The Christians used parthenogenesis to distance their faith and practices from the pagan concept of sexual relationships as well as marriage. 

Is the difference between pagans and monotheists that a food-and-sex-accepting religion entails chaos because humans lose control and manifest their anarchistic proclivities? Is it a case of the political and social elites that use ascetic-oriented doctrines and decry pleasure as an integral part of religion in order to impose discipline and control over the masses? Is it the case the patriarchal monotheistic societies fear the female invariably associated with the cult of food and sex that can be tools of female dominance?

Has monotheistic culture benefited by reverting to some aspects of pagan culture mores regarding food and sex, or is it the case that such trend developing since the Renaissance represents the decline of Western civilization? Does food and sex unleash creative potential by stimulating the brain's pleasure center - releasing the chemicals (dopamine) in the brain that account for euphoria?  If there are foods and drinks that boost sex drive, and if sex drive is a salient factor in the creative intellect, should the pagan culture mores be condemned as 'unnatural'?

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