Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sexy Ghosts

Killing the Buddha.com features this fascinating review of a new book called Heaven's Bride, by Leigh Eric Schmidt. It's about the 19th-century sex therapist, religious historian, and political figure Ida C. Craddock. And ... wow. What a story.

Craddock was a brilliant polymath, rejected by Penn because she was a woman, and condemned to life teaching shorthand at a secretarial college. Breaking away, she became a self-proclaimed expert on both sex and religion, dishing out advice along the lines of “think and talk during the nude embrace … of good books, pictures, statuary, music, sermons, plans for benefiting other people, noble deeds, spiritual aspirations." I know: sexy, right?

She was also part of the wild and crazy world of American religiosity, mingling with all your freethinkers, free-lovers, Theosophers and so forth. She visited the Oneida Colony, and later started her own Church of Yoga. When she got into legal trouble, Clarence Darrow defended her. And she did get into trouble. A World's Fair lecture on belly-dancing ticked off Anthony Comstock, the J. Edgar Hoover of smut, and he went after her. She wound up institutionalized and, eventually, dead by her own hand.

But the really wild thing about Craddock was this: she was married to a ghost. Or so she believed, at any rate. Her supposed husband was the shade of a dead businessman, whom she called Soph, and with whom her relationship extended to such intimate details as how lumpy he made the bed at night.

After her death, a psychoanalyst went after her reputation, and published a case study which argued -- in good early Freudian style -- that religious and sexual delusions went hand in hand, as products of repressed (or "sublimated") erotic impulses. Schmidt pounces on this: "The ecstasy of revelation versus the voice of reason — that is an old and almost tiresome choice." Well, yes and no. Psychoanalysis was a pseudo-science from the get go, a religion of its own dressed up in doctor's clothing. So any "reason" here is incidental. Craddock was, pretty plainly, nuts. That doesn't make Freud any more right than Comstock. The question is, as usual among human beings, which of the strange and subjective belief systems available to us will actually create a more beautiful and liveable world.

Buy the book here. We certainly plan to.

1 comment:

Karin said...

maybe more than one.