16 September 2016

Mommy, what's a polyamorous Christian socialist utopia ?

Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights. At the commune headquartered on the Oneida River in upstate New York, women cut their hair short, ditched the corset, and did the same work as the men. Everyone worked four to six hours a day, and no one accumulated any material possessions—not furniture, not fine clothing, and certainly not silverware.

Most scandalously, commune members engaged in a system of “complex marriage,” believing that loving, open sexual relationships could bring them closer to God. They believed the liquid electricity of Jesus Christ’s spirit flowed through words and touch, and that a chain of sexual intercourse would create a spiritual battery so charged with God’s energy that the community would transcend into immortality, creating heaven on earth...

The first tenet of Noyes’ Bible Communism was to let go of emotional attachment to other people, be they spouses or even children, in exchange for a communal spirit fed by God’s love. Married couples who joined the commune were told to give up their “marriage spirit” of sexual possessiveness and jealousy. Mothers and children or pairs of lovers who showed too much attachment or “sticky love” would be punished with periods of separation... At Oneida, another building on the former farm was converted to the “Children’s House” where all the Community’s children, ages one and half to 12, would be raised by nurses and teachers. Noyes believed that favoring one’s own children over others, or “philoprogenitiveness,” was also a sin...

Noyes didn’t see any conflict between scientific progress and his brand of Christianity: Like many Victorians, he was mystified and enchanted by electricity and magnetism. Noyes combined ideas from Franz Anton Mesmer’s theories of animal magnetism and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept of the Over-Soul, wherein everyone and everything is a connected part of God. He asserted that Christ’s love was an electric fluid that could be passed through words, both written and spoken, as well as through touch. But the ultimate way to charge up the Community’s “God battery” was through sex, and if the members had enough electric sex in the name of Jesus, they could achieve immortality on earth...

Each boy coming of age, usually around 14, would be introduced to sex with a spiritually devout postmenopausal woman. Meanwhile, girls who’d gone through puberty—at that time, New York’s age of consent was 12—would lose their virginity to Noyes himself (who was already 37 when the Community settled in Oneida). While there are no records of brother-sister or child-parent partnering, the Oneidans accepted sexual relationships between uncles and nieces as well as first cousins.
Much more in the longread at Collectors Weekly, including an explanation of how the legacy of the word "Oneida" eventually came to be associated with flatware and silverware:
Oneida’s early enterprises included canning fruits and vegetables and manufacturing animal traps, chain link, and silk sewing thread. It was Wayland-Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Cragin, who in 1877 suggested the community start making spoons at its colony in Wallingford, Connecticut, near the rushing Quinnipiac River. The original polyamorous religious commune broke up in 1880 and reorganized its assets into a corporation. In the 1890s, Oneida Community, Limited, started to drop its other products to focus on the cutlery market.


  1. Interesting factoid, Charles Guiteau, the man who shot President Garfield, lived there for a few years. Apparently he wasn't much liked, and acquired the nickname "Charles Gitout" from women who were tired of turning down his advances.

  2. Isn't it interesting that regardless of the philosophical outlook of these sorts of cults/communities, the one common theme is that the (invariably male) leader reserves for himself the right of deflowering the virgins.

    1. One easy trick for spotting cults, doctors hate it!

    2. Seems like an elaborate organization to facilitate his goal of 'consensual' child sex.

  3. The Oneida Comminity Mansion would be an interesting place to visit. We're only about a 2 hour drive away. My wife and I stopped in Auburn NY a few weeks ago and visited thw William Seward house... I had at that time also been reading "Team of Rivals" about Lincoln and his cabinet so it made for a timely tour.


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