Quote: Paleolithic religion as sex mysticism

I ran across a 1940 paper by George Barton, a specialist on Near Eastern religious tradition, during the course of researching a paper I’m writing. The paper is entitled, “The Palaeolithic origins of religion” Barton:religion:1940, and it has one of the most incredible abstracts I’ve ever seen:

The burials and the art of the Aurignacian period show that men then worshipped a mother goddess, and this worship can be traced back to Mousterian times, when Neanderthal man flourished. The same art shows that women reverenced the erect phallus. These are the only objects that they seem to have considered divine. There is reason to believe that the part of a father in procreation was not yet known. The worship was not a fertility-cult in the later sense. No privacy existed; men and women knew the details of each others' physical forms. Men saw women miraculously produce children. Like the male animals, they had from instinct coitus with her. Orgasm give them the divinest thrills they knew. It was to them like the later bacchic ecstasy of intoxication. Women became their goddesses. Probably they did not generalize more than the dog, but each was devoted to his mistress. Women obtained a similar mystic ecstasy from the experience. She did not deify man, but the erect phallus. The heart of religion is a mystic thrill, uplift or satisfaction. Creeds, rituals, and conduct are all subordinate to this. Palolithic religion was, then, sex-mysticism. The psychologic unity of the race made it universal as its survivals in the historic period prove. This is the real origin of religion. It was not begotten by fear (Lucretius), nor by animism (Tylor), nor by ancestor worship (Herbert Spencer), nor by the mysterium tremendum (Otto), but by the mysterium feminium -a mysterium tremendum indeed, but scarcely that which Otto contemplated. In adult life we forget the umbilical cord and the nursing; similarly religion has now almost everywhere left far behind its biological beginnings.

They just don’t write them like that anymore.

The article fits perfectly as an illustration of the excesses of using prehistoric evidence from archaeology as a strut for interpreting the evolution of behavior, which is why I’m citing it. The article as a whole is less foolish-sounding than the abstract, rooted in exposition of the archaeological record of “ritual” then known. These aspects of the archaeological record were often wishful thinking, but that wasn’t Barton’s fault.