Well, I was reading Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe, volume 3,(which is very much worth reading, by the way; it’s even more full of good stuff than the first few volumes, and has quite a few more dirty jokes) when I came across a discussion of the origin of the word “bugger.” Now, not many history books talk about this (it originates with the Albigensian heresy), but since Gonick doesn’t give the whole story, and since I’m avoiding work (I’m holding office hours right now, does it show?) I figured I would insert a discourse here on…
The origin of the word “bugger” is actually not only tied in with some interesting history, but it highlights early mass political movements and just why the church has been so opposed to “unnatural acts” in the past few hundred years.
The OED is beautifully vague about the meaning of the word, but it does give the correct etymology: “bugger” < MF "bougrer" < MF/LL "Bougre," a Bulgar.
Here's the story: In the 11th century or so, a heresy (the Albigensians, aka the Cathars, aka the Bulgars because of their place of origin) cropped up and started to spread across Europe like wildfire. The theological content of the heresy was that the material world was evil, a creation of the devil (and yes, this idea was recycled from the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge) and that Christ was never a material man, so his physical death on the cross was meaningless and the veneration of the symbol is idolatry.
OK, this is what theologians talked about, but the man in the street – and this was a movement of the poor, by the way – understood none of this. The politics of this was a response to the horrible economic situation, the rising gap between rich and poor (and when "rich" means "feudal lords" and "poor" means "serfs," this can get pretty extreme) combined with the increased ease of travel and communication between cities – after the peace treaties of the early 11c stopped most of the internal wars in Europe for a while, and everyone got together to fight Crusades against the Muslims, it was suddenly possible to move around in Europe, and a bunch of serfs were wondering just why they were chained down to their estates.
So the meaning of the heresy was this: First of all, the physical world is evil – not a surprising thing to think if you're an 11th-century serf, but it was in direct contradiction to what the Church was telling everyone, that this is exactly the way things are supposed to be, and that the current political setup is an Earthly mirror of a divine plan of rulership. Second, Christ was not physical – thus his death on the cross was not real – thus his investiture of Peter was meaningless as well, and so priests should have no authority over the souls of men.
Basically, this turned into a mass popular movement in which serfs and peasants of various sorts formed into giant groups and travelled across the countryside, acknowledging no authority of lords or priests, living essentially as mendicants (since they had no real employment) and generally screwing with the medieval economy. The Church obviously really didn’t like this, and they got wiped out in a particularly bloody manner. This was really the first major heresy war. (I should say that the Cathars turned very, very nuts towards the end, and got amazingly bloodthirsty themselves – nobody was very sorry to see them go by the end of this)
So anal sex mixes in to this because of another belief of the Cathars: Since the physical world is evil, to bring more things into the physical world is wrong. Phrased another way, the Cathars believed in birth control, something which the Church was fervently opposed to at the time because they needed people to do things like fight on the front lines against Vikings and Muslims and so on. Unlike some other heretical sects, who practiced abstinence, the Cathar doctrine suggested that nothing you do physically could be sinful – they preached free love and birth control, which in those days (pre-pill, pre-condoms of any useful sort) meant you just had to find another orifice.
Which is why the Cathars – or Bulgars – got associated with anal sex, and so the word “bougrer” entered the vernacular. So the next time you’re involved in anal sex, whether giving or receiving, just think back for a moment and remember that what you’re doing is one of the most radical acts of political protest against the power of the medieval church.
(Incidentally: I think that this may be the origin of the Church’s opposition to “unnatural acts.” Can anyone back or refute this statement?)