6 Reasons Dashwood’s Monks Sucked at Satanism

The moralist may want to decry the Monks of Medmenham as holy terrors, devil-begotten and dancing down the moon, but in reality they were Rabelasians. Were they bawdy?  Of course.  Hedonistic?  Definitely.  But Satanists?  I think not.

THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS (Hortus Deliciarum) c. 1180
by German Miniaturist, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

 6 Reasons the Monks of Medmenham Sucked at Satanism

1.  The monks took “wives” 

Bawds Charlotte Hayes and Elizabeth Dennison may have routinely supplied the monks with hanks of fresh meat but the monks appear carnivorous of one flesh at a time.  It was forbidden for, say, Sandwich to take a bite out of Dashwood’s supper.  This would have caused the monks to go all un-monkly on each other which leads to . . .

2.  The monks had private chambers

This is by far their greatest breach in practicing Satanism.  Do naked witches dancing around a bonfire mean nothing to them?  Were the monks not lurking in the dark forest, their little demons in wait for the ritual orgy?  Nope.  Conjure for yourself an image of spare chambers with beds, two bodies writhing together, and in the next chamber, the same damned thing.  I cannot say the devil would approve.  Even the earliest pagans succeeded in open-field intercourse and what the hell is a vagina shaped into the lawn for if not to roll in it?

THE BEWITCHED MAN Goya c. 1798
National Gallery, London

3.  Gatherings were limited to two weeks a year 

When the monks had to keep the debauchery fresh and exciting by limiting it to 14 days out of 365, how immoral could they possibly be?  We can suppose they sinned the whole year through (and in Lord Sandwich’s case, he likely did) but English has a word for these types: rakes.  Lots of gentlemen were rakes.  Maybe they mocked religion with sexuality, but satanist seems a facile label.  Moreover, for the Georgians it was a lazy justification for the actions many of their contemporaries disdained and/or misunderstood.

4.  A goodly number of the inner circle had pious wives at home

Saying nothing of the education gap between men and women during Georgian England or the standards of female conduct, a zealous wife and a randy husband do not make for good bedroom sport.  Add to this the fact that men were expected to look outside their wives for sexual pleasure and the diversions of home pall even further.   Boredom nags and man, in a state of psychological expenditure, inverts the woes of his existence.  Pious wife becomes whore, restraint becomes revelry, and atheism and/or contempt of the church becomes mock-satanism.

WITCHES’ SABBATH Goya c. 1789
Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

5.  High-born women visited Medmenham under conditions of anonymity ONLY AFTER they were assured no male relative was present

With the exception of Dashwood’s half-sister Mary Walcot (and it is speculated whether or not she actually participated at Medmenham) the intermingling of monks with blood and familial relatives was taboo.  The revelers had limitations.  But why limit indulgence?  I’m not suggesting a mésalliance á la the Lannisters in Game of Thrones, though maybe that should be on the table as well, but surely a satanist relative would forgive the women under his legislation if they possessed the same fleshly desires as he?  Surely he would not expect her to follow God’s rules and be chaste?

6.   Lord Sandwich and the baboon 

John Wilkes was a trickster who shared a mutual loathing for Lord Sandwich.  He viewed the monks’ fascination with the dark arts as flummery, and so, to amuse himself, he rigged a ceremonial chest used during the Black Mass.  He tied a cord to a spring loaded door and ran said cord beneath the rug to where he could pull it at his leisure.  One night after the Black Mass had commenced and the monks were kneeling before the chest, imploring the Dark Prince to appear and receive their adoration, Wilkes grinned and pulled his cord.  A baboon, dressed as the devil and shrieking with fear and glee, launched onto a startled Sandwich.  And what did this wicked fellow do?  Collapsed in a babbling fit, foreswearing his alliance to Satan.

Satanism, one might surmise, is not for the faint of heart.

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4 thoughts on “6 Reasons Dashwood’s Monks Sucked at Satanism

  1. I love the title of this post! Hilarious. Your descriptions of the their behavior and ideas make one suspect that many of them were atheists who felt a strong need to vent about religion and have a good time while doing so.

    I confess to being totally captivated by the Hortus Deliciarum painting. Wow. Had not seen that before. Wonderfully vivid. Incredible detail. Amazing too, that it may indeed be an early example of a brilliant female artist. (I looked it up). This communicates clearly to the illiterate or to people who require information made clear without ambiguity. This certainly does that. Ghastly, but gorgeously conceived.

    One interesting detail. In the third level of Hell (one up from the bottom), there is a large cauldron being filled with what appear to be bearded fellows in white hats. Written on the side of the pot is the word “Judei,” early German/Latin for Jew. There is doubtless much context that needs to be applied to this image, but even parsing this detail is itself a dangerous idea. The long history which anti-antisemitism has endured is well known, but seeing it displayed in a 12C church document makes it present and real.

    Minus that detail, I believe, without irony, that it would make a marvelous rug design!

    1. I hadn’t realized Hortis Deliciarum was (perhaps) made by a woman. That would be unusual for the time but wonderful. Thanks for looking it up and sharing!

      I didn’t notice the anti-semitism either. There’s no end to it, it seems. I’d be curious to look at other 12th century
      religious art, especially of German origin, to see if it makes a similar appearance.

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