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This post is for adults only.

Those of a sensitive disposition are also forewarned as some readers may find the content disturbing.

As the content is so distressing, I would advise people to refrain from eating whilst reading it.

Lloyd de Mause (pronounced ‘de-Moss’) is an American social thinker who specialises in psychohistory — uncovering the whys and wherefores of our behaviour over millenia.  The next few posts feature his research into child abuse and the treatment of women in societies around the world from antiquity to the present day.

You might find his research either edifying or objectionable. However, it will provide food for thought, especially to readers who have ever wondered why so many children are treated as being lower than animals. These excerpts from deMause’s The Origins of War in Child Abuse and his 1997 lecture, ‘The History of Child Abuse’, will shed light on what might be atavistic human traits or learned behaviour.

I do not agree with de Mause’s conclusion that laws against corporal punishment and obligatory visits by ‘child helpers’ will produce a kinder, less violent society. I can think of real life examples for and against.

De Mause also believes that less corporal punishment will give way to fewer wars. I’m not sure about that, either. Fallen man will always look for violence and subjugation of another. Just read the news in peacetime. Some of the suspects had violent upbringings, others did not.

Content and summaries below are from de Mause’s lecture, ‘The History of Child Abuse’. Emphases are mine.

De Mause states that children have been beaten, molested, starved and sacrificed since ancient times in cultures around the world through to the present day. He posits that abusive parents and other adults view children as ‘poison containers’:

receptacles into which adults project disowned parts of their psyches, so they can control these feelings in another body without danger to themselves.

An abusive mother often feels insecure and unloved:

As one battering mother put it, “I have never felt loved all my life. When the baby was born, I thought he would love me. When he cried, it meant he didn’t love me. So I hit him.² Rather than the child being able to use the parent to detoxify its fears and anger, the parent instead injects his or her bad feelings into the child and uses it to cleanse his or herself of depression and anger.

A more complex, socially acceptable example is that of the Bimin-Kuskusmin of New Guinea, where it is taboo for a woman who has recently given birth to sleep with her husband. Consequently, the mother sleeps with the child and transfers her sexual feelings and gestures to them, particularly to sons. As this separation from the husband can last up to four years, a frustrated mother can cause a small boy pain in his genital area:

One three-year-old boy describes how whenever his mother was sad or angry she masturbated him so roughly that it hurt him, and he struggled to get away, complaining of a pain in his penis. “It hurts inside,² he told the ethnologist. “It goes Œkoong, koong, koong’ inside. I think it bleeds in there I don’t like to touch it anymore …”

The boy told the ethnologist that in order to overcome the pain in his privates, he cut himself on the leg, thereby creating a new pain which distracted him from the original one.

De Mause observes:

Boys in many New Guinea groups today, for instance, are so traumatized by the early erotic experiences, neglect and assaults on their bodies that they need to prove their masculinity when they grow up and become fierce warriors and cannibals, with a third of them dying in raids and wars. In fact, I have found that rather than the incest taboo being universal–as anthropologists claim–it is incest itself that has been universal for most children in most cultures in most times. A childhood more or less free from adult sexual use is in fact a very late historical achievement, limited to a few fortunate children in a few modern nations.

He then looks at late 20th century statistics on incest in the United States, Canada, Latin America,  England and Germany. I couldn’t help think of the eagerness of education ‘experts’ to push for sex education among younger and younger children in our schools when I read this:

In America … Adjusting statistically for what is known about these additional factors [those from higher risk groups who were not interviewed, e.g. criminals, psychotics, prostitutes], I have concluded that the real sexual abuse rate for America is 60 percent for girls and 45 percent for boys, about half of these directly incestuous.

A recent Canadian study by Gallup of 2,000 adults has produced incidence rates almost exactly the same as those found in the United States. Latin American family sexual activity–particularly widespread pederasty as part of macho sexuality–is considered even more widespread. In England, a recent BBC “ChildWatch” program asked its female listeners–a large though admittedly biased sample–if they remembered sexual molestation, and, of the 2,530 replies analyzed, 83 percent remembered someone touching their genitals, 62 percent recalling actual intercourse. In Germany, the Institut für Kindheit has recently concluded a survey asking West Berlin schoolchildren about their sexual experiences, and 80 percent reported having been molested.

Of India, he states:

Childhood in India begins, according to observers, with the child being regularly masturbated by the mother, the girl “to make her sleep well,” the boy “to make him manly.” The child sleeps in the family bed, witnesses and most likely takes part in sexual intercourse between the parents

Child marriage was, of course, a long-standing Indian practice. When laws were passed in 1929 trying to outlaw it, the government was overwhelmed by men insisting that early marriage was an absolute necessity, since little girls were naturally very sexual and must be married early if they are to be restrained from seducing adults …

The Indian subcontinent, in fact, still has many groups, such as the Baiga, where actual incestuous marriage is practiced, between fathers and daughters, between mothers and sons, between siblings and even between grandparents and their grandchildren–thus disproving the oft-repeated anthropological truism that “no known tribe has ever permitted incest” because if it were allowed society would surely cease functioning. In many of these villages, the children move at the age of 5 or 6 from the incestuous activities of the family bed to spend the rest of their childhood in sex dormitories, where they are initiated by older youth and men into intercourse with a succession of other children, none for longer than three days at a time, under threat of gang rape.

China’s social history, he says, shows:

the same institutionalized rape rituals as in India, including the pederasty of boys, child concubinage, the castration of boys to be used sexually as eunuchs, marriage of young girls to a number of brothers, widespread boy and girl prostitution and the regular sexual use of child servants and slaves. So prevalent was the rape of little girls that Western doctors found that, as in India, few girls entering puberty had intact hymens. Even the universal practice of foot binding was for sexual purposes, with a girl undergoing extremely painful crushing of the bones of her feet for years in order that men could make love to her big toe as a fetish …

Childhood in Japan:

still includes masturbation by mothers “to put them to sleep.” Parents often have intercourse with their children in bed with them, and “co-sleeping,” with parents physically embracing the child, often continues until the child is ten or fifteen. One recent Japanese study found daughters sleeping with their fathers over 20 percent of the time after age 16. Recent sex surveys report memories of sexual abuse even higher than comparable American studies, and “hot lines” of sexual abuse report mother-son incest in almost a third of the calls … Even today, there are rural areas in Japan where fathers marry their daughters when the mother has died or is incapacitated, “in accordance with feudal family traditions.”

In the Middle East:

Historically, all the institutionalized forms of pedophilia which were customary in the Far East are documented extensively for the Near East, including child marriage, child concubinage, temple prostitution of both boys and girls, parent-child marriage (among the Zoroastrians), sibling marriage (quite common among Egyptians), sex slavery, ritualized pederasty and child prostitution. Masturbation in infancy is said to be necessary “to increase the size” of the penis, and older siblings are reported to play with the genitals of babies for hours at a time. Mutual masturbation, fellatio and anal intercourse are also said to be common among children, particularly with the older boys using younger children as sex objects. The nude public baths (hammam) are particularly eroticized in many areas, being especially notorious as a place of homosexual acts, both male and female.

Girls are used incestuously even more often than boys, since females are valued so little. One report found 80 percent of Near Eastern women surveyed recalled having been forced into fellatio between the ages of 3 and 6 by older brothers, cousins, uncles and teachers. The girls rarely complain, since “if there is any punishment to be meted out, it will always end up by being inflicted on her.” Arab women know that their spouses are pedophiles and prefer having sex with children to having sex with them. Their retribution comes as follows. When the girl is about 6 years old, the women of the house grab her, pull her thighs apart and cut off her clitoris and often also her labia with a razor, thus usually ending her ability to feel sexual pleasure forever.

De Mause views the clitoridectomy as an act of incest. Of genital mutilation of girls and boys, he says:

In all these cases, the child is being used for the sadistic sexual pleasure of the parent. In fact, circumcision ceremonies are often followed by drinking parties that end in intercourse, so sexually arousing is the circumcision—in some areas, the traveling circumcizer is actually accompanied by some prostitutes, who know how sexually excited villages become after the ceremony …

Oh, the carnality of it all. If this does not illustrate man at his hungriest for flesh to abuse, then what does?

Any time that people lust after flesh, whether to beat it or abuse it sexually, they would do well to ask why they feel that need. Sadly, most who engage in this practice are too caught up in flesh to step back for a moment to examine their thoughts and desires.

De Mause explains how the child as ‘poison container’ works in contemporary Greece:

As one peasant community in rural Greece puts it, you must have children around to put your bad feelings into, especially when the “Bad Hour” comes around. An informant describes the process as follows:

One of the ways for the Bad Hour to occur is when you get angry. When you’re angry a demon gets inside of you. Only if a pure individual passes by, like a child for instance, will the “bad” leave you, for it will fall on the unpolluted.

Newborn infants, in particular, were perfect poison containers because they were so “unpolluted.” The newborn then became so full of the parent’s projections that even if he or she is allowed to live (up to half the children in early societies were murdered at birth), the infant had to be tied up–tightly swaddled in bandages for up to a year or more—to prevent it from “tearing its ears off, scratching its eyes out, breaking its legs, or touching its genitals,” i.e., to prevent it from acting out the violent and sexual projections of the parents.

It seems to me from personal observation that many adults coo over a tiny infant only to demonise it when it starts developing an inquisitive nature or personality a few years later. The much loved, much indulged baby becomes a ‘little devil’ or, more benignly, an ‘imp’ or a ‘rascal’. Admittedly, most of us tested the waters in our early years, but observe how quickly adult opprobrium sets in and lasts until our adulthood. Then, it often reverts back to indulgence, excuse-making and the need of the parent for the child.

I know a number of middle-aged married American mothers who say of their adult offspring, ‘I hope they don’t move away. I need all my babies around me’, or ‘All my children and their families live within a three-block radius; they are there when I need them’.

So, it seems that once trained to be independent, the parent views the adult child as cleansed anew — reborn, as it were — and becomes a revered ‘poison container’ for the parent’s anxieties and fears in their advancing years.

This, too, is something which seems to have gone on since time began.  Perhaps it is a good thing in that a parent finally feels free and able to invest positive emotional energy in the adult child. However, in a pathological situation, it happens when the child has his best years ahead of him personally and professionally. In the worst sense, the parent is still controlling the child’s development, dreams and aspirations.  In this case, the parent still relies on carnality and the need for the ‘poison container’.

De Mause points out that anxious adults used children as sacrificial poison containers to ensure commercial and other successes. Child sacrifice was a means of appeasing the gods, a practice that began in pagan times and continues into the present day:

Typical was Carthage, where a large cemetery has been discovered called The Tophet filled with over 20,000 urns deposited there between 400 and 200 B.C. The urns contained bones of children sacrificed by their parents, who often would make a vow to kill their next child if the gods would grant them a favor–for instance, if their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port. Some urns contain the bones of stillborn babies along with the bones of two-year-olds, indicating that if the promised child was not born alive, an older child had also to be killed to satisfy the promise. The sacrifice was accompanied by a music, wild dancing and riotous orgy, and was probably accompanied by the ritual rape of virgin girls, as it was with the Incans. Plutarch told how the priests would “cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan [while] the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums…” Sacrifice, rape and genital mutilation of young girls continues to take place today in the Andean mountains, particularly to ward off the guilt coming after successful cocaine deliveries. These ceremonies, from antiquity to today, resemble closely the satanic rituals made familiar recently in the newspapers, using the infliction of rape, sexual mutilation and other horrors in order to visit upon child victims elements of the traumas of the satanists’ own childhood.


That child sacrifice was carried out mainly by the rich in each of these early societies confirms my theory that it is a guilt-reducing technique. Whenever new ventures were begun, children would be sacrificed. Whenever a new building or bridge was built, a child would be buried within it as a “foundation sacrifice.” Children still play at capturing a child and making it part of the bridge in “London Bridge’s Falling Down.” Children’s bodies were particularly useful in curing disease. Whatever one’s physical ills, a child could be used to “absorb” the poison that was responsible. When, for instance, one wanted to be cured of leprosy, one was supposed to kill a child and wash one’s body in its blood. When one wanted to find out if a house whose previous occupants had died of plague was still infected or not, one rented some children to live in it for several weeks to see if they died–rather like the use of canaries in mines to detect poisonous gas. When one was impotent, depressed or had venereal disease, doctors prescribed having intercourse with a child. As late as the end of the nineteenth century, men who were brought into Old Bailey for having raped young girls were let go because “they believed that they were curing themselves of venereal disease.” Raping virgins was particularly effective for impotence and depression; as one medical book put it, “Breaking a maiden’s seal is one of the best antidotes for one’s ills. Cudgeling her unceasingly, until she swoons away, is a might remedy for man’s depression. It cures all impotence.” And, of course, whenever a parent had a disease, they always had their children handy to absorb the poison. Thus British doctors in the nineteenth century regularly found when visiting men who had venereal disease that their children also had the same disease–on their mouths, anuses or genitals.

De Mause sees the advancement of women as the way out of this situation. He theorises that the better women are able to mother, the better off families — and societies — are. And the way for them to become better mothers is by coming to grips with their past — especially the traumas:

The crucial relationship in this evolution is the mother-daughter relationship. If little girls are treated particularly badly, they grow up to be mothers who cannot rework their traumas, and history is frozen. For instance, although China was ahead of the West in most ways during the pre-Christian era, it became “frozen” and fell far behind the West in evolutionary social and technological change after it adopted the practice of footbinding girls. Similarly, the clitoridectomy of girls in Moslem societies has inhibited their social development for centuries, since it likewise puts a brake on the ability of the next generation of mothers to make progress in caring for their children.

However, there is more complexity to this than meets the eye, because we have all been conditioned not only by our family influences, but those which are cultural and historical as well. More on this tomorrow.

Meanwhile, let this serve as a message that we should not be regressing to the past, as Christian complementarians and their Muslim counterparts would have us do, but to move forward in God’s grace to make use of all the precious gifts He has given us and our offspring. If there is one thing in this life we really should do ‘for the children’, this is it.

Tomorrow: De Mause’s six childrearing modes

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