Beliefs relating to Sexual Matters in Morocco


Published in/Publicerad i/Julkaistu:  Verhandlungen des I. internationalen Kongresses für Sexualforschung, vol. 5 /1928, 163-169. Berlin: A. Marcus & E. Weber’s Verlag

The Edvard Westermarck Online Collection, (Eurooppalaisen filosofian seura ry), ed./red./toim. Juhani Ihanus, Tommy Lahtinen & Yrsa Neuman 2011. Transkribering/Litterointi/Transcription:

Beliefs relating to Sexual Matters in Morocco.
By  Professor Edward   Westermarck,  Guildford  (England).


    The following notes are based on observations made by me du­ring my stay in Morocco, where I have altogether spent seven years engaged in the study of the beliefs and ceremonies of the Moors, that is, the Muhammadan natives of the country. They chiefly belong to the Berber race, although a large portion of them have changed their original mother-tongue for Arabic.
    Sexual intercourse is regarded as defiling and in certain circum­stances as a mysterious cause of evil. This is most prominently the case when sexual uncleanness comes in contact with b a r a k a , or "holiness". It spoils the b a r a k a , and may also injure the holy person or object in a more positive manner; and at the same time the unclean individual himself may be hurt by the contact, not only on account of the resentment which the holy person naturally feels against the defiler, but because b a r a k a reacts quite mechanically against any pollution, to the destruction or discomfort of the polluted individual. Many facts may be quoted as evidence of these various effects resulting from the contact of sexual uncleanness with b a r a k a and of the taboos to which they have given rise.
    Thus no sexual act must be committed in a holy place, a mos­que or a shrine, nor is a person who has been polluted by any dis­charge of sexual matter allowed to enter such a place before he has washed himself. Should he do so he would suffer some misfortune; he would grow blind, or lame, or mad, or he or some member of his family would become ill or die, or he would lose some of his animals, or his corn crop would be bad. If he enters a mosque, his guardian angels will leave him. I was told that if a person who is not sexually clean visits the tomb of the saint Sidi Daud, which is situated on an island near Aglu in Sus, he will find that the water in the sea has suddenly risen to such a height that he cannot go back to the main­land, but has to wait till it has gone down. Nor is a person who is sexually unclean allowed to pray; once when I was staying in a place where the water supply had become extremely scarce, my Berber teacher, who had always before most regularly said his daily prayers, refrained from doing so for a couple of days because his clothes had been defiled by a pollution. While wearing his garb the pilgrim must abstain from sexual intercourse. Owing to its injurious effect upon ho­liness, an act generally looked upon as sacred would, if performed by an unclean individual, lack that magic efficacy which is otherwise ascribed to it. The Moors say that a scribe is afraid of evil spirits only when he is sexually unclean, because then his reciting of passages of the Koran — the most powerful weapon aganist such spirits — would be of no avail.
    Sexual cleanness is required of those who have anything to do with the corn; for such persons are otherwise supposed to pollute its holiness, and also, in many cases, to do injury to themselves. In most parts of Morocco it is considered necessary for the ploughman to be sexually clean; otherwise there will be no b a r a k a in the seed, or there will grow mostly grass and weeds in the field. So also the reapers and anybody who comes to the threshing-floor when the corn is there must be clean; and the same is the case with the women who clear the crops of weeds in the spring, lest their work should be without result and they should become ill themselves. If an unclean person goes into a granary it is believed not only that the grain will lose its b a r a k a, but that he himself will fall ill; a Berber told me that he once got bad boils because he entered a granary in a state of uncleanness. Nor must an unclean individual enter the vegetable gar­den, as such a visit would do harm both to the garden and to the per­son who went there. When a woman is grinding corn she must be
    Women should be sexually clean when they milk the cows, sheep, or goats. If an unclean person goes among the sheep they will die, because they are holy animals and in consequence easily hurt by de­filement, and the person himself may also have to suffer some mis­fortune. Sexual cleanness is required of any one who goes to the place where the bees, which likewise have b a r a k a, are living; if this rule is not observed they will leave the place or become diseased or produce only a small amount of honey, or there will be worms in the honey, or the bees may even die; while the unclean individual will be stung by them.
    The horse, which has much baraka, must be well guarded against pollution. It seems to be a universal belief in Morocco that if a person who is sexually unclean rides a horse some evil will happen to him:  he will tumble down, or be late in arriving at his destination, or will not succeed in his business, or will have boils, or become ill or die. I have been told that such a rider will never come back to his home alive, except on one condition: if a man who is sexually pollu­ted while travelling and has no opportunity to wash himself promises his horse, by speaking in its ear, that he will make an ablution as soon as they come to a place where there is water, then no evil will result from his uncleanness. It is, moreover, a very general belief that not only the unclean rider, but the horse, too, will have to suffer, being particularly liable to get sores on its back. Some people even say that the mule, though not a holy animal, will get sores if ridden by an un­clean individual, whereas nothing will happen to the rider. When a person gives barley to a horse, mule, or donkey, he should be clean, since the barley would otherwise be bad for the animal, and when he gives it he should say the b i s m i l l a h, "In the name of God". I was told that these rules owe their origin to the b a r a k a of the barley.
    A person who writes a charm which contains words from the Koran and is intended to serve a good purpose must be sexually clean; and sexual intercourse destroys the magic efficacy of a charm if it is not removed before the act, though  some people manintain that a metal case protects a charm from defilement of any kind. Moreover,
sexual intercourse is said not only to affect the charm, but also to make the person who wears it ill; and if the charm used by hunters to attract animals is worn by an unclean person he will be haunted by evil spirits. If a person goes out hunting he must be clean anyhow; otherwise the animals and birds will run away from him, and if he fires a shot the gun — which is a holy object — will burst. A single un­clean individual among a party of hunters may give bad luck to the whole party. An unclean person must not even touch a gun; if loaded, it will easily explode in his hand. Sexual intercourse on the sea — which contains forty saints or is itself a saint — may wreck the boat; the Moors are consequently much concerned for their own steamers. It is said that if an unclean person bathes in the sea, "the angels of the sea" will run away; but I have also heard the opinion that a bath in the sea removes sexual uncleanness, even if the defilement has been sevenfold. Some Berbers in Central Morocco believe that the wound of a circumcised boy gets inflamed if an unclean person looks at it.
    Sexual intercourse should in any case be followed by an ablution. A person who is sexually defiled sleeps badly, being haunted by evil spirits or abandoned by his guardian angels. If he steps over another person, the latter will have boils or other sickness in consequence. He must keep out of sight of any one who has been bitten by a mad dog, so as not to cause the rabies to break out. No woman who has omitted to cleanse herself after sexual intercourse is allowed to enter the room in which a dying person is lying. The persons who take part in the washing of a dead body must be in a state of ritual purity. Anyone who visits a grave must be sexually clean.
    Matrimonial intercourse should be preceded by the b i s m i l l a h on the part of the husband; if he omits it the devil enters the woman and will be half the father of the child. No sexual intercourse must take place in a public bath, because it is haunted by evil spirits. Blood­letting, which exposes a person to the attacks of such spirits, should be followed by one, or even three days', continence. At Fez I was told that it is bad for a person to have sexual intercourse on the night before he starts on a journey; but at Tangier I heard just the reverse. It is a widespread rule that if a man and his wife spend a night together in another person's house, they must sleep apart, a transgression of this rule being supposed to injure the host; and I have also been told that sexual intercourse of a guest with a member of the household will cause death among its animals. But in some tribes a host is, on the contrary, even said to lend his daughter or some other female member of the family to his guest. I was informed by a native friend, who spoke from experience, that such a custom is found in the Shnwla, in the neighbourhood of Casablanca. The stranger is asked whether he is "a guest of the mosque" or "a guest of the tent"; if he says that he is the former, food is brought for him to the mosque of the village, whereas if he says that he is a guest of the tent, he is taken to a pri­vate tent and provided with a temporary wife by its owner, and I have even heard that in rare cases he may have the company of the wife of his host. This is an extreme incident of the stringent custom of hospitality, which is closely connected with the fear of the stranger's curses and evil eye and with the belief in the efficacy of his blessings.
    Sexual intercourse should be avoided in moonlight; at Fez it is said that a child conceived in such circumstances would have ring­worm. The mountaineers of Andjra in Northern Morocco maintain that the same will happen to a child conceived on a Saturday night, or that such a child will become an unfortunate individual; whereas it is widely believed that matrimonial intercourse is very auspicious on the nights between Sunday and Monday and between Thursday and Friday, in consequence of which Sundays and Thursday are fa­vourite days for the fetching of a bride to her new home. At Tangier matrimonial intercourse should be suspended on the eve of the 10th of Muharram, which is practically the Muhammadan New Year's day, since a girl conceived on that night would be born without the distinc­tive character of a virgin. In Andjra and among some of the Berbers of the Rif there is a similar taboo of longer duration, lasting for the first ten days of the month; the latter maintain that a child con­ceived in that period would be deaf and dumb, or consider it advisable to refrain from sexual intercourse even till the end of the month because a child conceived in Muharram will never have any offspring. But in some other parts of the country I have heard that a man who has connubial connection on the eve of the 10th of Muharram will thereby strengthen his sexual capacity for the whole year, in accor­dance with the general idea that whatever people do on that night or the following morning they will do during the ensuing year.
    Matrimonial intercourse may be suspended on certain other occa­sions for fear of undesirable effects on the offspring. There is a be­lief that if a woman sees "a monkey, a Christian, a Jew, or a slave", her husband must not have intercourse with her that night, lest the offspring should become like the animal or person she has seen; and before they go to bed the following night they should have a good supper together and talk and joke, so that she may no longer think of what she has seen. So also, if a woman has attended a wedding or some other feast, her husband should refrain from conjugal inter­course that night, lest the offspring should resemble any man she might have taken a fancy to. Moreover, if a married man has been away from home for a considerable time, he should have no inter­course with his wife for three or four days after his return, because she may during his absence have got fond of another man, and in such a case the child would look like him and not like its father; and he should not only practise abstinence, but do his best to please his wife and thus make her forget her new friend.
    Everywhere it is a stringent rule to refrain from sexual connec­tion with a woman who has her monthly courses and with a woman who has just given birth to a child; in the former case the abstinence should last for eight or twelve or even fifteen days, and in the latter case for forty or sixty days, though this rule is by no means always observed. In Andjra I was told that if the husband sleeps with his wife on the evening of the day when the child is named — that is, a week after its birth — he may also sleep with her every night after­wards; whereas if he refrains from matrimonial intercourse on that night he must also do so till the forty days have passed. But before they have intercourse he must put under her one of his own gar-
ments; otherwise the children borne by her will suffer from ring­worm on their heads. Menstruous blood is due to Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit in Paradise, which was transformed into such blood, and the blood of a parturient woman is equally polluting; withcraft is practised with both. As to hymeneal blood opinions differ. It is sometimes said to contain b a r a k a and be wholesome for the eyes; in Dukkala, when the blood-stained garment of the bride is exhibited, the peole come and look at it and rub their eyes writh the stains. But I have also heard it emphatically denied that there is any benign vir­tue in such blood, and it is regarded as a seat of danger. There are bridegrooms who take care that no offspring can result from the de­floration of the bride, since many people believe that the child would be diseased if the semen came in contact writh the hymeneal blood; while others maintain that the child will be all right if only the bride and bridegroom avoid cleaning themselves with the same towel.
    There is b ä s , or evil energy, in the male organ of generation. To see a man's penis in the morning makes the day unlucky; and if in starting on a journey in the morning you see the nakedness of a man who is urinating or bathing you should turn back. If a barber does not carefully clean the razor after shaving a man's pubes, the next person whose head he shaves will have boils, or the part of a man's body he shaves next will get diseased; he should clean the razor with water and ashes and then smear it with oil. The pubic re­gion of a woman exhales evil influences. Among some tribes in Cen­tral Morocco, if a strange woman spends a night as guest in another person's house, she is not allowed to undo her girdle unless a fowl is killed or a cut is made in the ear of a sheep; the blood of the fowl or sheep is then supposed to destroy the b ä s emanating from her when she loosens her belt. Or she is in no circumstances allowed to loosen her girdle in the dwelling of her host.
    It seems that sexual intercourse and, generally, the discharge of sexual matter are looked upon as polluting largely on account of the mysterious propensities of such matter and the veil of mystery which surrounds the whole sexual nature of man. But the defiling effects ascribed to them are also in all probability connected with the notion that woman is an unclean being. Particularly during menstruation and at childbirth she is supposed to be charged with mysterious baneful energy, no doubt on account of the marvellous nature of these pro­cesses and especially the appearance of blood; and it is presumably such frequent temporary defilement of a specifically feminine cha­racter that has led to the notion of the permanent uncleanness of the female sex.
    There are, however, also circumstances in which mysterious energy of a benefical character is ascribed to sexual intercourse. Such intercourse with a saintly person is looked upon as a blessing. Chenier, in his book on Morocco written in the latter part of the eighteenth century, speaks of a saint in Tetuan who seized a young woman and had commerce with her in the midst of the street; "her companions, who surrounded her, uttered exclamations of joy, felicitated her on her good fortune, and the husband himself received complimentary visits on this occasion". Supernatural benefits are expected even from
homosexual intercourse with a person possessed of b a r a k a. I know of an instance in which a young man, who was regarded as a saint on account of the miracles he performed, traced his holiness to the fact that he had been the favourite of a shereef; and it is a common belief among the Arabic-speaking mountainers of Northern Morocco that a boy cannot learn the Koran well unless a scribe commits pe­derasty with him. So also an apprentice is supposed to learn his trade by having sexual intercourse with his master.
    Facts of this sort may throw light on the sodomitic acts commit­ted with the q e d e s i m, or male prostitutes, attached to the temples of the ancient Canaanites, and therefore, indirectly, on the excessive seve­rity with which homosexual practices have been treated by Christian legislators: those acts may, in conformity to Moorish notions, have had in view to transfer blessings to the worshippers. It was natural that Yahveh's people should regard such practices with the utmost horror as forming part of an idolatrous cult; and the Hebrew conception of sodomy passed into Christianity. The notion that it is a form of sa­crilege was here strengthened by the habits of the gentiles; St. Paul found the abominations of Sodom prevalent among nations who had "changed the truth of God into a lie". During the Middle Ages here­tics were accused of unnatural vice as a matter of course; indeed, so closely was sodomy associated with heresy that the same name was applied to both (see my Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, vol. ii. p. 489). In mediaeval laws it was also re­peatedly mentioned together with heresy, and the punishment was the same for both. It hus remained a religious offence of the first order; it was one of the four "clamantia peccata," or crying sins, a "crime de Majestic, vers le Roy celestre."
    Bestiality, which is much less frequent than homosexuality but anything but uncommon, is in some cases practised for curative or other useful purposes. Sexual intercourse with a she-mule is a remedy for polyuria. A cure for gonorrhea is to have connection with a she-ass on three days in succession. Young boys who have not yet attained the age of puberty have intercourse with she-asses in order to get sexual capacity and make the penis grow. Men secure themselves against ever being put in prison by having sexual intercourse with a black dog. In Andjra I was told that the sperm of a man is injurious to a female animal. A man who has intercourse with another person's animal has to buy for it new shoes, a new pack-saddle, and new panniers; he must also feed it for a day, and if it becomes ill he will have to pay its price. But with his own animal a man can with impunity do what­ever he likes.
    The notion that sexual intercourse is defiling and a potential cause of evil is partly at the bottom of the numerous purificatory and protective rites practised at a wedding. Bride and bridegroom are supposed to be in a dangerous condition, when bride or bridegroom for the first time. She or he enters into a new state, the wedding is a rite de passage; and to pass into a new condition or to do a
thing for the first time is not only in this, but in many other cases considered to be attended with danger. But it must in addition be noticed that in the present instance the nature of the act by which the marriage is consummated is apt to increase the supposed peril. In my book M a r r i a g e C e r e m o n i e s i n M o r o c c o I have dealt with the Moorish wedding ritual and the ideas underlying it.