Today we’re taking a brief look at some hippie heretics of yore known as the Adamites. The 2nd century Christian sect, claimed that its members were re-established in Adam and Eve’s state of original innocence, called their church “Paradise”, practised “holy nudism”, rejected marriage and pretty much claimed they could do whatever the heck they wanted because they had no knowledge of good or evil. They sound a lot like hippies, right?
Adherents of an early Christian group in North Africa between the 2nd and 4th centuries, this forgotten society lasted longer than America is old, and was also revived hundreds of years later in the Netherlands during the Middle Ages. Various factions in Bohemia also took up the doctrines of this obscure sect, but were met with firm opposition from the mainstream churches. The Bohemian Adamites took to the practice of parading naked through towns and villages, preaching that God considered exclusive marriage to be a sin. They lived in lawlessness, maintaining that such concepts of monogamy would never had existed but for sin.
Historian Norman Cohn explains that “in this sect free love seems to have been the rule. The Adamites declared that the chaste were unworthy to enter the Messianic kingdom … The sect was much given to ritual naked dances held around a fire. Indeed, these people seemed to have spent much of their time naked, ignoring the heat and cold and claiming to be in the state of innocence enjoined by Adam and Eve.” The sect was also often criticised for “never thinking of earning their own living by the work of their hands”.
Another Adamite sect, the Picards of Bohemia, took possession of their own island in the river Nežárka, and lived communally, practicing social and religious nudity, free love and individual ownership of property. A Czech general and Hussite leader, nearly exterminated them in the 15th century.
Let’s not forget, the Adamites were crazy outsiders who picked fights with the mainstream churches. But that’s the thing with ancient heresies – they generally don’t get a chance to explain themselves to us. We hear about them from the recordings of orthodox Christians, who saw the heretics as nothing but rivals and wanted to paint them as weird and depraved outsiders of community.
Before the Roman Emperor Constantine came along and appointed a specific brand of Christianity as the Byzantine State Religion, Christian communes and antique “hippie” sects like the Adamites were entirely tolerated. Christianity was merely a fluid term; some Christians literally followed the word of Christ and established their own communes while others merged Judaism & Jesus of Nazareth’s statements into a hybrid religion or merged Greek & Biblical texts. When Constantine took power however, he needed political stability and something to tie together the disparate peoples in his vast kingdom, so he promoted a severe, repressive brand of Christianity which required order & deference to the earthly authorities and hunted down any Christian groups which didn’t follow this system.
So if you like the sound of the rebellious, nude and free-loving Adamites, you can pretty much thank Constantine for ruining the party. After all, it only took several centuries, a sexual revolution (and some hallucinogenic drugs) for their ideas to finally remerge in the summer of 1969 at a music festival in upstate New York.