Self Castrators July 22, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern , trackback
Castration is everywhere in history. The Normans did it to the Sicilians, the Afghans to the British, the Italians to their future opera singers and Heloise’s family did it to Abelard: and, goodness, did Abelard have it coming – a father speaks. But there is a more refined category of testicle removal that is not as common: the self castration of adult males prior to the modern sex op.
Beachcombing made the catastrophic mistake of typing ‘self castration’ into Google (God knows what he is going to do for a picture for this post) and, before he got queasy saw that the question has come up on Yahoo Answers ( ‘1. get him REAL drunk; 2. boil a heavy duty set of bolt cutters; 3. thread a needle with thick black thread; 4. snip, sew, relax’) and that there is a Youtube self help video. Nauseated by his brief internet search he turned back to pre-digital technology and the rusty filing cabinet in the downstairs bathroom, converted just the other week into a diaper-changing station. Though the folder in question is not exactly bulging there are some striking examples.
Origen, Beach’s favourite Church Father, is said to have removed his testicles in adolescence as an act of Christian or Neo-Platonic piety: if so this is perhaps the only example of self-castration actually having had an influence on the world. Origen’s peculiar lack of rage – unusual among early Christian writers with their odium theologicum – may (?) come down to the fact that he had successfully dealt with his sexuality.
Another example is Boston Corbett, a mentally unbalanced British born Union soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth in the fateful siege of the tobacco barn. In his mid 20s – 1858 – Corbett castrated himself to prevent temptation from prostitutes post the death of his wife in childbirth. It is difficult to understand whether he became eccentric after the operation or whether this was just the first act of that eccentricity.
Beachcombing’s favourite example though is from the village of Threlkeld in Cumbria and its local vicar, a Scotsman Alexander Naughley (obit 1756) ‘remarkable for the oddity of his character’.
(Wonder 222) The cure in his time was very poor… but as he lived the life of Diogenes, it was enough. His dress was mean and even beggarly: he lived alone, without a servant to do the meanest drudgery for him: his victuals he cooked himself, not very elegantly we may suppose: his bed was straw, with only two blankets. But with all these outward marks of a sloven, no man possessed a greater genius; his wit was ready, his satire keen and undaunted, and his learning extensive ; add to this that he was a facetious and agreeable companion; and though generally fond of the deepest retirement, would unbend among company, and become the chief promoter of mirth.
This obituary goes on to describe his unusual library and various unpublished works of his there including such classics as Conic Sections, Spherical Trigonometry and his poems. It should also be noted that his parishioners idolized AN.
Mr Naughley never was married; but having once some thoughts of entering into that state, he was rejected by the fair one to whom he paid his addresses. Enraged at this disappointment, and to prevent the fair sex having any farther influence over him, he castrated himself, giving for his reason,’If thy right eye offend thee’… In consequence of this operation, he grew prodigiously fat, and his voice, which was naturally good, improved very much, and continued during his life.
Is this why Beach always imagines Origen overweight waddling down the streets of Alexandria like a well-meaning duck? Any other self-castraters prior to the twentieth century? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
Writing this Beachcombing had a flashback to one of his favourite movie lines: Drowning by Numbers (Peter Greenaway) ‘Don’t worry, Cissy,’I sterilized the scissors.’
22 July 2011: First up is Andy the Mad Monk who confesses to shock that Beachcombing didn’t mention Cybele. Apologies from Beach who even once included Cybele in book, though it might not have made it through to the published version. ‘I was rather surprised that you did not mention the Roman cult of Cybele for this topic – part of the rites was self-castration. There is a good picture of one of the implements used. I believe the original is on display at the Museum of London. Horrific though it looks, it is not that different from those used for livestock today. Andy the mad monk (still wincing at the thought)’ Then Ricardo R has put Beach onto one of the most productive schizophrenics in history, William Chester Morris who in 1902 lopped off not his testicles, but his own penis. Mother of God, Mother of God… Thanks Andy and Ricardo!!
24 July 2011: Rayg from Segal Books has a particularly sad case: The 1845 Mental Maladies: a Treatise on Insanity reports the case of Matthew Lovat, who castrated himself, then went on to devising a way to crucify himself. ‘Matthew Lovat, a shoemaker of Venice, who was controlled by certain mystical notions, castrated himself, and threw the genitals out of the window. He had prepared himself beforehand, with every thing necessary to dress the wound, and experienced no serious consequences from it. Some time afterwards, he persuaded himself that God had commanded him to suffer death upon the cross. He reflected two years upon the mode of executing his project, and occupied himself in preparing instruments for his sacrifice. At length, the day arrives. Lovat crowns himself with thorns, three or four of which penetrate the skin of his brow. A white handkerchief, tied tightly around the flanks and thighs, conceals the mutilated parts. The rest of the body is naked. He takes his seat upon the middle of the cross, which he has made, and adjusts his feet upon a bracket, which was attached to the inferior branch of it. The right foot reposes upon the left, and he transfixes them both, with a nail five inches in length, which he drives, with a hammer, to a considerable depth into the wood. He then transfixes successively, both his hands, with long and very sharp nails, by striking the heads of them against the side of his chamber. He then raises his hands thus pierced, and brings them in contact with those which he had previously placed at the extremity of the two arms of the cross, in order to cause the nails, there placed, to penetrate his hands. Before nailing the right hand, he avails himself of it, to make, with a sharp shoemaker’s knife, a large wound in the left side of his chest. This done, with the assistance of cords previously prepared, and slight movements of the body, he causes the cross to slip, which falls outside of the window, and Lovat remained suspended in front of the house. On the following day, he was still there. The right hand, alone, was detached from the cross, and hung by his side. They removed the wretched man from this terrible situation, and brought him immediately to the Imperial clinical college. M. Ruggieri perceived that no wound was mortal. Lovat recovered from his wounds, but not from his delirium. It was observed that during the exasperation of the delirium, he did not complain, whilst he suffered dreadfully, during his lucid intervals. He was transferred to the hospital for imbeciles, where he exhausted himself by voluntary fasts, and died physically, April 8th, 1806.’ Thanks RayG!
26 July 2011: KMH writes in with a precious east European topic ‘with the voluntary castration topic, you might investigate the Bogomils, an extreme Byzantine Christian sect which advocated and practiced voluntary castration to a certain degree‘. Thanks KMH!
31 July 2014: Sam writes in ‘Check out the skoptsy. Russian underground cult of voluntary castratees. A silver-tongued devil makes that sales pitch, you bet!’ Yikes, thanks Sam!