by César Tort
Preface to the abridged Gates of Vienna edition (English version) of a book from the series Whispering leaves
Throughout history and prehistory children’s lives have been a nightmare about which our species is barely starting to become conscious. “Parents are the child’s most lethal enemy,” wrote the founder of modern psychohistory. While paleoanthropologists have found evidence of decapitated infants since the time of our pre-human ancestors, and while it was known that infanticide continued into the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, the emotional after-effects on the surviving siblings was only first appreciated by Lloyd deMause with the publishing of History of childhood in 1974. In his preface to the internet version of The emotional life of nations, published in 2002, deMause wrote: “The purpose of this book is to reveal for the first time how the ultimate cause of all wars and human misery is the parental holocaust of children throughout history.” As we will see in the sixth discursion, substantiated by a hundred references [I published a fair portion of this discursion in a Citizendium article], infanticdal parents were the rule, not the exception. Even in the so-called great civilizations the sacrifice of children was common. In Carthage urns have been found containing thousands of burned remains of children sacrificed by parents asking favors from the gods. It is believed that infants were burned alive.
Although in a far less sadistic way than in Carthage and other ancient states, and this explains the genius of the classic world, Greeks and Romans practiced infanticide in the form of exposure of newborns, especially girls. Euripides’ Ion describes the exposed infant as: “prey for birds, food for wild beasts to rend.” Philo was the first philosopher who made a clear statement against infanticide:
Some of them do the deed with their own hands; with monstrous cruelty and barbarity they stifle and throttle the first breath which the infants draw or throw them into a river or into the depths of the sea, after attaching some heavy substance to make them sink more quickly under its weight.
In some of his satires Juvenal openly criticized abortion, child abandonment, and the killing of adoptive children and stepchildren.
My first reaction in the face of such revelations was, naturally, a healthy skepticism. This moved me to purchase books about infanticide and histories of childhood not written by “psychohistorians”, but by common historians; and I started to pay special attention to certain kinds of news in the papers of which previously I scarcely gave any importance. One day in 2006 a notice caught my eye, stating that there are 32 million fewer women than men in India, and that the imbalance was caused by feticide. I recalled a photograph I had seen in the June 2003 National Geographic, showing a Bihar midwife in the rural North of India, rescuing a female baby abandoned under a bridge. Infanticide and selective abortion, particularly of girls, continue as I write this line. According to a Reproductive Rights conference in October 2007 in Hyderabad, India, statistics show that 163 million women are missing in Asia, compared to the proportion of the male population. They are the result of the exposure of babies, and especially of selective abortion facilitated by access to techniques such as prenatal testing and ultrasound imagery. These snippets of information gathered from newspapers, coupled with the scholarly treatises which I was reading, eradicated my original skepticism about the reality of infanticide.
But let’s return to psychohistory as developed by deMause.
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There are cultures far more barbarous than contemporary India as regards childrearing. In the recent past of the tribes of New Guinea and Australia, little brothers and sisters witnessed how parents killed one of their siblings and made the rest of the family share the cannibal feast. “They eat the head first”, wrote Géza Róheim in Psychoanalysis and anthropology published in 1950. Gillian Gillison observed in Between culture and fantasy: a New Guinea highlands mythology, published in 1993, that the mother eats the son’s penis. And Fritz Poole wrote:
Having witnessed their parents’ mortuary anthropophagy, many of these children suddenly avoided their parents, shrieked in their presence, or expressed unusual fear of them. After such experiences, several children recounted dreams or constructed fantasies about animal-man beings with the faces or other features of particular parents who were smeared with blood and organs.
These passages are quoted in Lloyd deMause’s book The Emotional Life of Nations. Reading further in this work, one can also learn, as Wolfgang Lederer wrote when observing the tribes, that other primitives threw their newborns to the swine, who devoured them swiftly. (As for non-deMausean references to these claims, I repeat, several of them appear in the Citizendium article that I edited.) Lederer also recounts that he saw one of these mothers burying her child alive:
The baby’s movements may be seen in the hole as it is suffocating and panting for breath; schoolchildren saw the movements of such a dying baby and wanted to take it out to save it. However, the mother stamped it deep in the ground and kept her foot on it…
Australian aboriginals killed approximately 30% of their infants, as reported by Gillian Cowlishaw in Oceania; and the first missionaries to Polynesia estimated that up to two-thirds of Polynesian children were killed by their parents. In a 2008 article I learned that infanticide continues in the islands even as of the time of reporting. Tribal women allege they have to kill their babies for fear they might become dreadful warriors as adults.
Another type of information that shocked me in deMause’s books was the frequency throughout history of the mutilation of children. Once more, my first reaction was a healthy skepticism. But I had no choice but to accept the fact that even today there are millions of girls whose genitals have been cut. The Emotional Life of Nations publishes a photograph of a panicked Cairo pubescent girl being held down by adults at the moment when her family has her mutilated. Every time I see that photo I have to turn away my head (the girl looks directly into the camera and her pain reaches me deeply). According to the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), in 2007 there were between 100 and 140 million women who had had their genitals removed. The practice ranges from the partial cutting of the clitoris to the suturation of the vaginal orifice, the latter especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The INED study points out that in Ethiopia three-quarters of women have been genitally mutilated, and in Mali up to 90 percent. The practice is also carried out in Yemen, Indonesia and Malaysia. In historic times there were a large number of eunuchs in Byzantium, and in the West mutilation was a common practice for boys. Verdun was notorious for the quantity of castrations performed, and signs hung above stores saying, “boys castrated here.” Castration was common as well in other cultures. DeMause observes that the testicles of boys between three and seven years were crushed or cut off. In China both the penis and the scrotum were cut, and in the Middle East the practice continued until recent times.
DeMause’s books are eye-openers also about another practice that no text of traditional anthropology had ever taught me: the tight swaddling of babies. It is worth noting that historians, anthropologists, and ethnologists have been the target of fierce criticism by some psychohistorians for their failure to see the psychological after-effects brought about by such practices. Through the centuries, babies were swaddled by their mothers with swaddling clothes wrapped around their bodies, several times and tightly fastened while they screamed in their vain attempts at liberation. Before reading deMause the only thing I knew of such practice was when I as a boy saw a cartoon of a couple of Red Indians who had their baby swaddled, of which only a little head was visible crying big time, while the Indians walked on casually. Despite its being a cartoon, I remember it made a mark in my young memory because of the pity I felt for the baby boy and how I noted the parents’ indifference. This happened decades before I read Foundations of Psychohistory, wherein it is described that this practice was universal and that it goes back to our tribal ancestors.
Swaddled boy of the Indian tribe Nez Perce (1911)
In Germany and in some Austrian families swaddling continued into the twentieth century. We can imagine the baby Hitler as he was swaddled by his mother, Clara Hitler, and left choking with sobs with his excrement enclosed in his swaddling bands [the second and third books of my Whispering leaves series recount how Hitler was abused as a child]. Even Alice Miller herself, the heroine of my third book, was swaddled as a child. In Europe swaddling is still practiced in some rural parts of Greece. The sad spectacle of the swaddled newborns in Yugoslavia and Russia draws the visiting foreigners’ attention. Even in the city in which I was born a few friends have told me that some relatives swaddled their babies. (My mother confessed to me that both she and my father disliked the practice, and that they gave it up, on returning home, after having had it done to me and my siblings as newborns in the hospital.)
Those who have read my previous book would not be surprised that the man in the street has barely thought about the ravages that these practices — swaddling, mutilation, growing up knowing that mom and dad had abandoned or sacrificed a little sister — caused in the surviving siblings who witnessed it. What we have before us is the most potent taboo of the species: a lack of elemental consciousness of what parents do to their children. As we will see at the end of this book, some historians of infanticide who do not belong to the deMausean school, such as Joseph Birdsell, Laila Williamson, and Larry Milner, estimate in astronomical figures the infanticide rate since the Paleolithic. If their estimates are accurate, quantitatively speaking the Nazi Holocaust was insignificant compared to the children murdered by their parents.
But before elaborating further on this nearly unbelievable information, I must write down a few words about my forefathers.
Note for Gates of Vienna readers:
Those two family chapters will be omitted in this edition of The Return of Quetzalcoatl. The English Table of Contents of the chapters I will be translating from the original Spanish manuscript is available here.
Besides the Robert Godwin article, why the contents of this book are so relevant to GoV concerns has been explained, albeit briefly, in my blog. The fuller explanation will be apparent as a substantial part of this book is published here in the forthcoming weeks/months. I thank Baron Bodissey for allowing me to publish this preface.
©2008 César Tort