Seclusion of Girls at Puberty – Post 1

The seclusion of girls at puberty is a topic that bears an importance to the discussion about the origin of religion. The thesis proposed in  the lure of noma: On The Elegance of Religion is that the practice of secluding girls at puberty can have a significance in the context of the origin of religion as the reasons for such a seclusion is more supernatural than hygienic. It is not easy to prove the existence of such practices since the pre-historical times. From various places around the world there are various records of such puberty practices (see The Golden Bough of Sir James Frazer).  Even in historical times, these practices might have been confined to the mainly illiterate classes of these societies and hence, had a very small probability of being written down in any historical documents. Some of these societies only had oral traditions of passing down their customs.  It is noteworthy to see Frazer’s comment on that the Greek and Kirghiz legends about daughters kept by their fathers in seclusion.

However, modern records can provide us clues as to their prevalence in pre-historical times.  Here, we need to make assumptions about some facets of human behaviours. If we connect these puberty rites with the some behaviours evident among the pubescent girls in our modern society and assume these behaviours had some uniformity throughout the major part of human history, we can expect some parallels.  In a survey conducted in 1997 about the Mental Health Needs of Youth in the Juvenile Justice System in Ohio (as quoted by Prescott, L., Adolescent Girls with Co-Occurring Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System,the GAINS Center, NY,USA,1997), it was found that 84 percent of the girls displayed the need for mental health assistance compared to 27 percent of the boys. This is evidence for the fact that the adolescent girls, especially with a history of abuse, than the boys, are more vulnerable to mental problems. It is interesting to note that some of these girls experienced ‘hearing voices’ and had flashbacks. This study cohort of girls may be different to normal cohort of girls. However, the conclusion that the vulnerable girls, more than boys in similar situations, are prone to develop mental problems is still tenable. The disposition of girls over the history of human race couldn’t have changed so drastically.

The second set of evidence for girls’ behaviour issues come from the so-called poltergeist activities. Rickard and Michell (Rickard, B. and Michell, J., The rough Guide to Unexplained phenomena, Rough Guides Ltd, London, 2007, p86) describes a Romanian girl of about eleven years by the name of Eleonore Zugun. This is a case well documented and the girl was taken to England for study in 1926. Among the noticeable activities around her presence were the movement of small objects seemingly on their own account, and the appearance of bite-like marks on the skin of her face and arms. Her affliction disappeared after her fourteenth birthday and the onset of menstruation. Another story is about a girl who was in the service of a Lewis Burtis of New England. This nearly illiterate girl had been a living sketchpad with all sorts of images and words appearing on her skin. There are so many other such cases associated with young girls. The stage of life around the onset of puberty seems to be an interesting period in girls’ lives in many ways than one. It doesn’t need for these supernatural activities to be real. What is important is the perceptions about them in the immediate society. Thus, attributing special status to girls at puberty is perhaps not surprising.

If the facts about the treatment of girls at puberty across many ancient cultures and the documented evidence about some special mental conditions that can occur in girls around this age can be combined, it is not very difficult to imagine the special status accorded to the girls in some traditional communities. Frazer’s claim that these girls were treated similar to royalty and in turn to priests or magicians is significant. These similarities can be further supported by the work done by Thorstein Veblen around the turn of twentieth century. Veblen, writing on Pecuniary Canons on Taste, states that the priestly servitors of the divinity should not engage in industrially productive work; that work of any kind must not be carried on in the divine presence. This is not very different to the king’s duties. As the king is divine incarnate in many ancient societies, the divine beings cannot be thought of as doing any productive work. When we look at the secluded girls in this light, the practice seems to carry the practical theme of the supernatural.

In summary, we can now see why it is more natural to see a sociological explanation, as discussed in the lure of noma for the origin of religion. The so-called natural explanation based on animal responsiveness to the environment is forcing us to believe something which we cannot prove. This is an argument that may also be extended against the human experiences based explanation given above. The difference is the presence of many religions which are based on the perceived special gifts of the founders. And we all are not born religious. Nonetheless, we are yet to see any proven religious behaviour in animal kingdom.  Humans may not be unique but all behaviour and anatomical differences between humans and its closest relative, chimpanzees, cannot be currently explained away by genetic atomism. Thus, it is not unfair, at least until the day less than 2% genetic material difference between man and chimp can explain everything, to believe that the religion arose as a uniquely human reaction to what they could see around them as ‘supernatural’.

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The website aims to show the possible origin of religion through a ‘uniquely’ human process which has links to the seclusion of girls at puberty. It also advocates the view that the Paleolithic Venus figurines are related to these puberty rites and hence, the prehistoric Venus figurines may carry a much larger meaning. Thus, Religion is something more than a throwback from our animal past.
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