CHAPTER II. PHALLIC WORSHIP
Ancient, Generative, Priapus, Principle, Peoples, Religion
Phallic worship, in some form or other, has been practiced by almost every race under the sun. Indeed, among primitive peoples, those who do not practice this cult are so few in number that they have, practically, no weight whatever in a discussion of this subject. Moreover, those primitive peoples who do not worship the generative principle, either directly or indirectly, are without any religion whatsoever, and are the very lowest of all mankind in point of intelligence. I have only to cite the Tierra del Fuegians, the Bushmen, the Australians, and the Akka or Ticki-Ticki, the Pygmies of Central Africa, to prove the truthfulness of this assertion. There are other peoples who would serve as examples, but it would be a work of supererogation to enumerate them to even the casual reader.
D’Hancarville, in his magnificent work, has traced the progress of the worship of the generative principle over the entire world, while Knight, in his scholarly essay, has brought out its psychological truths in a manner which cannot be surpassed. It is not my purpose to enter into a detailed account of this cult; I propose rather to discuss its probable origin in the beginning, and to give a brief outline of its history, as it is to be observed among living peoples. I wish to show, also, its connection with certain religious ceremonies and festivals of Christian peoples, which had their origin, ab initio, in the worship of Priapus. And, before beginning the discussion of this subject, I beg to remind the reader that a priest of Priapus regarded his sistrum as being just as sacred as a Catholic priest now considers any vessel or robe used in the service of mass, and that the priests of Brahma look on the Lingam with as much reverence and awe as did the Levites on the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies. Phallic worship is a religion, the oldest abstract religion in existence. Fundamentally the Creator—the Life Giver—is the phallic worshiper’s god. Is he very far wrong in all that is absolutely essential? “Men think they know because they are sure they feel, and are firmly convinced because strongly agitated. Hence proceed that haste and violence with which devout persons of all religions condemn the rites and doctrines of others, and the furious zeal and bigotry with which they maintain their own, while, perhaps, if both were equally understood, both would be found to have the same meaning, and only to differ in the modes of conveying it.”
The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico are worshipers of the generative principle, and, like most religious sects, have evolved some very curious rites and ceremonies. The ancient temples of Venus or Aphrodite were filled with hetarae, who were necessary adjuncts for the proper performance of the mysteries of Priapus. These Indians, however, will not allow women to enter into their sacred ceremonies, but, on the contrary, emasculate men (by occasioning organic and functional degeneration of the sexual organs), who serve as hetaræ to the chiefs and shamans or priests. These androgynes are called mujerados, a term which aptly describes their sexual condition.
“In order to cultivate a mujerado, a very powerful man is chosen, and he is made to masturbate excessively and ride constantly. Gradually such irritable weakness of the genital organs is engendered that, in riding, great loss of semen is induced. This condition of irritability passes into paralytic impotence. Then the testicles and penis atrophy, the hair of the beard falls out, the voice loses its depth and compass, and physical strength and energy decrease. Inclinations and disposition become feminine. The mujerado loses his position in society as a man. He takes on feminine manners and customs, and associates with women; yet, for religious reasons, he is held in high honor.” The phallic ceremonies of the Pueblos take place in the spring, when the life principle is exceedingly active throughout all nature.
In all probability the “botes” of the Montana Indians and the “burdachs” of the Washington tribes serve as masculine hetaræ to the chiefs and medicine men, though this has not been definitely determined. Dr. Holder described a typical “bote” of the Absaroke tribe in the New York Medical Journal, 1889. This androgyne, in many respects, resembled the mujerados of the Pueblo Indians, and probably served a like purpose in his tribe.
According to Ross, a Konyaga woman, when she has a good-looking boy, dresses him in girl’s clothes and brings him up as a female. When he arrives at a suitable age he is sent to wait on the priests of the tribe and is introduced by them into the sacred mysteries of their cult; in fact, he becomes a masculine hetara.
When we read of such things we feel pretty much as Herodotus felt when he saw the naked women of Mendes submitting themselves openly e? ep?de???? a????p?? to the embraces of the sacred goat. To the Greek historian this act was simply horrible (te?a?); and yet these Egyptians experienced no repugnance whatever. To them it represented the incarnation of the deity, and was, therefore, a sacred and holy action, just as masculine hetarism is regarded as a holy profession among the Konyagas. Phallic hetarism is one of the sacraments of the Konyaga church, and, as such, it is held in all that reverence and awe with which the savage devotee endows the mysteries of his faith.
The ancient Hebrews, ancestors of one of the most ancient of the civilized races of the earth, held it in high honor. Even wise King Solomon, in the days of his old age, turned from the abstractedly pure religion of his father “to Astoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, and to Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites.” He was guilty of constructing a “high place” for Chemosh, “the abomination of Moab.” Any good modern biblical encyclopedia will tell the reader about Astoreth and her worship, and what the “high places” and the “groves” were.
Even the “good kings,” such as Asa, Amaziah, et al., did not remove the high places and the groves, for we read that, notwithstanding the fact that these kings did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, they did not remove the high places. In the case of Amaziah, it is written:
“And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like David, his father; he did according to all things as Joash, his father, did.
“Howbeit, the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.” All of the so-called “wicked kings” were phallic worshipers, and both male and female hetarism flourished during their reigns. We read of Josiah, a “good king,” “And he broke down the houses of the sodomites (kedescheim) that were by the house of the Lord.” Here, in unmistakable terms (kedescheim), the phallic act of the hetara is specified.
Herodotus wrote: “Almost all mankind consort with women in their sacred temples, except in Greece and Egypt.” This is a queer mistake for a Greek to make, yet this historian is noted for his unreliability, and we should not feel surprised at this gross error. Concerning the Aphrodite of Abydos, what she was and what took place in her temples, is a matter of history. Indeed, this goddess was surnamed Porne! In Corinth, delubral hetarism was openly practiced; also at Bubastis and Naucratis in Egypt. Royal princesses were pallacides in the temple of Ammon; in fact, they took pride in the title of pallakis! “It is known what excessive debauchery took place in the ‘groves’ and ‘high places’ of the ‘Great Goddess.’ The custom was so deeply rooted that in the grotto of Bethlehem what was done formerly in the name of Adonis is to-day in the name of the Virgin Mary by Christian pilgrims; and the Mussulman hadjis do likewise in the sanctuaries of Mecca!”
But let us return to primitive peoples, from whose customs and beliefs we can learn what our own ancestors must have believed before the besom of civilization swept aside the crudities of savagery.
The Khonds of India are phallic worshipers, and, in the practice of their religion, Priapus saves many a girl who would be, otherwise, offered up on the bloody altars of their divinities. The pregnant woman is sacred, hence, religious prostitution is exceedingly prevalent. But it frequently happens that some unfortunate creature, who is not pleasing to the shamans, is seized, tied to the stake and butchered. As the blood flows down and deluges the ground, “the divine spirit enters into the priest and inspires him.” This sacrifice is of itself a phallic rite; the blood-offering is supposed to be exceedingly acceptable to Earth, the mother of all things. Blood is the essence of the life-giving principle; hence, the essence is returned to the great Giver, as a propitiatory offering.
In point of fact, the worship of the generative principle is everywhere prevalent in India. In the Lingam, or holy altar of the Brahmins, we see a conjunction of the male and female sexual organs, while religious prostitution, in the shape of hetarism, crowds the inner courts and corridors of almost every temple in the land with hierodules and bayaderes. The Vedas abound in references, either direct or indirect, to phallic worship. Indeed, according to some authorities, the Hindu Brahma is the same as the Greek Pan, “who is the creative spirit of the deity transfused through matter.”
Hundreds of pages have been written on snake-worship, in which a wonderful amount of metaphysical lore has been expended. Mr. Herbert Spencer devotes several pages to the snake, and the reason for its appearance in the religion of primitive peoples. He ascribes to savages a psychical acuteness that I am by no means willing to allow them, inasmuch as he makes them give a psychical causation for their adoption of the serpent as a deity, such as no ignorant and uncultivated savage could have possibly evolved. I am inclined to believe that, like all great students and thinkers, Mr. Spencer has a hobby, and that this hobby is animism or ancestor-worship. When he gives out, as a reason for the snake’s almost universal appearance in the religions of primitive peoples, that the latter consider it an animal which has assumed the returning ghost, double, or soul of an ancestor, I think that he is very much in error. There are very few primitive folk, comparatively speaking, who believe in metempsychosis. In all probability, when a race, like the ancient Egyptians, for instance, had reached a high degree of civilization, they idealized many of their religious beliefs and customs; hence, the serpent probably lost its initial and simple symbolical meaning, and stood for something higher and more ethical during the reign of the great Pharaohs, and the Golden Age of the Greeks and Latins. I am positive, however, that the snake’s original significance was wholly phallic in character, and that its adoption as a symbol was simple and material, as I explain elsewhere in this essay.
I am forced to this conclusion by its presence among phallic symbols in almost every race that practiced or practices a worship of the generative principles. The Pueblo Indians, whom I have mentioned elsewhere in this treatise, regard the snake symbol with reverence; the Moqui Indians have their sacred snake dance, in which they worship the reptiles, handling the most vicious and poisonous rattlesnakes with seeming impunity; the Apaches hold that every rattlesnake is an emissary of the devil; “the Piutes of Nevada have a demon deity in the form of a serpent still supposed to exist in the waters of Pyramid Lake;” on the wall of an ancient Aztec ruin at Palenque there is a tablet, on which there is a cross standing on the head of a serpent, and surmounted by a bird. “The cross is the symbol of the four winds; the bird and serpent the rebus of the rain-god, their ruler.” The Quiche god, Hurakan, was called the “Strong Serpent,” and the sign of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain-god, was a golden snake. All of these tribes are or were worshipers of the generative principles, though, in most of them, phallic worship has or had lost much of its original significance. In Yucatan and elsewhere in South and Central America, notably among the ruins of Chichen Itza, the serpent symbol is frequently in evidence. The Indians of the Tocantins in Brazil, as well as the Muras, Mundurucus and Cucamas, are mixed nature and devil worshipers; as a sequence, certain phallic rites are to be observed in their religious ceremonies.
Many of the native tribes of North America perform phallic rites at puberty. James Owen Dorsey, who has made a study of the Siouan cults, writes as follows:
“Every male Dakota sixteen years old and upward is a soldier, and is formally and mysteriously enlisted into the service of the war prophet. From him he receives the implements of war, carefully constructed after models furnished from the armory of the gods, painted after a divine prescription, and charged with a missive virtue—the tonwan—of the divinities. To obtain these necessary articles the proud applicant is required for a time to abuse himself and serve him, while he goes through a series of painful and exhausting performances, which are necessary on his part to enlist favorable notice of the gods. These performances consist chiefly of vapor baths, fastings, chants, prayers, and nightly vigils. The spear and the tomahawk being prepared and consecrated, the person who is to receive them approaches the wakan man (priest), and presents a pipe to him. He asks a favor, in substance as follows: ‘Pity thou me, poor and helpless, a woman, and confer on me the ability to perform manly deeds.’” According to Miss Fletcher, when an Oglala girl arrives at puberty, a great feast is prepared, and favored guests invited thereto. “A prominent feature in the feast is the feeding of these privileged persons and the girl in whose honor the feast is given, with choke cherries, as the choicest rarity to be had in the winter… In the ceremony, a few of the cherries are taken in a spoon and held over the sacred smoke and then fed to the girl.” This is considered one of the most sacred of their feasts.
While discussing the phallic observances of the North American races, I will introduce the subject of tattooing, though it properly belongs elsewhere in this treatise.
At puberty, the Hudson Bay Eskimos invariably tattoo their boys and girls. Lucien M. Turner writing of the latter, says:
“When a girl arrives at puberty she is taken to a secluded locality by some old woman versed in the art of tattooing, and stripped of her clothing. A small quantity of half-charred lamp wick of moss is mixed with oil from the lamp. A needle is used to prick the skin, and the pasty substance is smeared over the wound. The blood mixes with it, and in a few days a dark-bluish spot is left. The operation continues four days. When the girl returns to the tent it is known that she has begun to menstruate.” Both Eastern and Western Inoits celebrate puberty with certain rites. It is rather difficult, however, to get them to say much about this matter, so I will not present the evidence, meager as it is, which has been gleaned from the works of various explorers. One can readily see that much of it is conjecture, therefore of little scientific value.
Not far from the Place of Gold, the magnificent temple in which the ancient Peruvians worshiped the Life Giver, was another great edifice, styled the “House of the Virgins of the Sun.” This was the domicile of the pallacides or hetaræ of the Chief Priest, the Inca. “No one but the Inca and the Coya, or queen, might enter the consecrated precincts… Woe to the unhappy maiden who was detected in an intrigue! By the stern laws of the Incas she was buried alive, her lover strangled, and the town or village to which he belonged was razed to the ground and sowed with stones as if to efface every memorial of his existence. One is astonished to find so close a resemblance between the institutions of the American Indian, the ancient Roman, and the modern Catholic. Chastity and purity of life are virtues in woman that would seem to be of equal estimation with the barbarian and with the civilized—yet the ultimate destination of the inmates of these religious houses (there were hundreds of them), was materially different… Though Virgins of the Sun, they were the brides of the Inca.” The monarch had thousands of these hetaræ in his various palaces. When he wished to lessen the number in his seraglios, he sent some of them to their own homes, where they lived ever after respected and revered as holy beings. The religion of the Peruvians had reached a high degree of development, and many of the crudities of simple phallic worship had either been entirely abandoned or so idealized that they had been lost in the mists of ritual and ceremony. For “the ritual of the Incas involved a routine of observances as complex and elaborate as ever distinguished that of any nation, whether pagan or Christian.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the descendants of the Incas have been under the guardianship of the priests of the Catholic church for hundreds of years, a close, careful, painstaking, and accurate observer informs me that he has repeatedly noticed unmistakable phallic rites interwoven with their Christian ceremonials and beliefs. The same can be said of a kindred race and a kindred religion. Biart, writing of the descendants of the Aztecs, says: “In grottoes unexpectedly discovered, I have frequently found myself in the presence of Mictlanteuctli, at the foot of which a recent offering of food had been placed.” How exceedingly basic and fundamental the worship of the generative principle must be in Psychos itself, is indicated by these facts!
In the very beginnings of history we find that many races of people held the worship of the generative principle in high honor. Not only has the knowledge of this fact come to us through the sculptured monuments of the Egyptians and the tablets, cylinders, etc., of the Chaldeans, but it has also been set before us by ancient historians. Speaking of the Chaldeans Herodotus (1,199) says, “Every woman born in the country must enter once during her lifetime the inclosure of the temple of Aphrodite, must there sit down and unite herself to a stranger. Many who are wealthy are too proud to mix with the rest, and repair thither in closed chariots, followed by a considerable train of slaves. The greater number seat themselves on the sacred pavement, with a cord twisted about their heads—and there is always a crowd there, coming and going; the women being divided by ropes into long lanes, down which strangers pass to make their choice. A woman who has once taken her place here cannot return home until a stranger has thrown into her lap a silver coin, and has led her away with him beyond the limits of the sacred inclosure. As he throws the money he pronounces these words: ‘May the goddess Mylitta make thee happy!’ Now among the Assyrians, Aphrodite” (the goddess of love, desire) “is called Mylitta. The woman follows the first man who throws her the money, and repels no one. When once she has accompanied him, and has thereby satisfied the goddess, she returns to her home, and from thenceforth, however large the sum offered to her, she will yield to no one.” Maspero declares that “this custom still existed in the fifth century before our era, and the Greeks who visited Babylon about that time found it still in force.”
He also calls attention to the fact that “we meet with a direct allusion to this same custom in the Bible, in the Book of Baruch: The women, also, with cords about them, sitting in the ways, burn bran for perfume; but if any of them, drawn by some that passeth by, lie with him, she reproacheth her fellow, that she was not worthy of herself, nor her cord broken. Ch. VI, verse 43.”
Phallic rites and observances entered very largely into the religion of the Assyrians, and can be traced back, in some form or other, even to the religion of the ancient Sumerians, the root-stock from which the Chaldeans had their origin.
In the third chapter of Hebrew history according to Moses (Genesis III), we have an unmistakable allusion to phallic worship in the use of the serpent in the myth of man’s temptation and fall. The serpent was an almost universal symbol of priapic adoration throughout Egypt and Assyria; it achieved this distinction, in all probability, from its resemblance to the instrumentum masculinum generationis. In a beautiful bronze plaque, representing Nergal, the Chaldean god of Hades, the glans penis of the god is distinctly the head of the snake. A splendid drawing of this plaque by Faucher-Gudin is given in Maspero’s Dawn of Civilization. It may be stated here that the uræus, or asp, which was so prominently in evidence as one of the principle signs of Egyptian royalty, was also the symbol of the life-giving principle of Ra, the sun-god.
Abraham, in all probability, instituted the rite of circumcision in remembrance of the Chaldean genital worship. This sexual fetichism was eminently religious in character from its very inception among the ancient Hebrews; yet Westermarck, in his History of Human Marriage, considers this custom as being of ornamental origin. Now, it is known beyond question of doubt that the Hebrews and Abyssinians, who practiced this rite, covered their nakedness, hence, it is folly to suppose that they ornamented a portion of their bodies which always remained carefully hidden. Moreover, since it has been in use from very ancient times “among most of the tribes inhabiting the African West Coast, among all the Mohammedan peoples, among the Kaffirs, among nearly all the peoples of Eastern Africa, among the Christian Abyssinians, Bogos, and Copts, throughout all the various tribes inhabiting Madagascar, and, in the heart of the Black Continent, among the Monbuttu and Akka; and since it is practiced very commonly in Australia, in many islands of Melanesia, in Polynesia, universally, in some parts of America, in Yucatan, on the Orinoco, and among certain tribes in Rio Branco in Brazil;” and since most of these people wholly or partially hide their nakedness, it cannot, necessarily, have had its origin in the desire for ornamentation. Again, since the rite of circumcision among these peoples always takes place at puberty, when vita sexualis begins, and is always accompanied by other rites and ceremonies of deeply religious significance, it must be a religious observance and phallic in its nature. Girls, also, at puberty, among many tribes of Africa, among certain races of the Malayan Archipelago and South America have an operation performed upon them. “Sunt autem gentes, quarum contrarius mos est, ut clitoris et labia minora non exsecentur, verum extendantur, et saepe longissime extendantur.” Surely such a peculiar and uncalled-for performance has a deeper significance than mere ornamentation, and does not warrant the expression “atque ista etiam deformatio insigne pulchritudinis existimatur.”
Tattooing, among certain races, is a phallic rite, and in the Tahitians the priapic origin of this procedure has been preserved in an interesting myth. Hinæreeremonoi was the daughter of the god and goddess Taaroa and Apouvaru. “As she grew up, in order to preserve her chasity, she was made pahio, or kept in a kind of inclosure, and constantly attended by her mother. Intent on her seduction, her brothers invented tattooing, and marked each other with the figure called Taomaro. Thus ornamented, they appeared before their sister, who admired the figures, and, in order to be tattooed herself, eluding the care of her mother, broke the inclosure that had been erected for her preservation, was tattooed, and became, also, the victim to the designs of her brothers. Tattooing thus originated among the gods, and was first practiced by the children of Taaroa, their principle deity. In imitation of their example, and for the accomplishment of the same purposes it was practiced among men.”
With very few exceptions, primitive peoples, wherever found, have given or still give unmistakable evidence of a knowledge of phallic worship in some form or other. Many of them still practice it, generally combined with the religion from which it was evolved, i. e., sun worship. The Ainu of Japan is a notable example of a race whose religion shows the presence of the elements of both worships. The religion of this remarkable people, notwithstanding the fact that it has become decidedly ethical (they having arrived at a knowledge of the good and evil principles), shows its sun birth. Until very recently the couvade existed in full force and vigor. “As soon as a child was born, the father had to consider himself very ill, and had, therefore, to stay at home, wrapped up, by the fire. But the wife, poor creature! had to stir about as much and as quickly as possible. The idea seems to have been that life was passing from the father into his child.”
Among Slavonic races in early times, the worship of the generative principle was almost universal. This continued, in a measure, even after the establishment of Christianity, and we find phallic rites masquerading in the garb of Christian observances as late as the sixteenth century in parts of Russia and Hungary. Westermarck, in his chapter on the human rut season in primitive times, says: “Writers of the sixteenth century speak of the existence of certain festivals in Russia, at which great license prevailed. According to Pamphil, these annual gatherings took place, as a rule, at the end of June, the day before the festival of St. John the Baptist, which in pagan times was that of a divinity known by the name of Jarilo, corresponding to the Priapus of the Greeks.” If my memory serves me correctly, Wappäus says that a like festival was in existence among the Hungarians two hundred years ago. To this day certain religious sects of Russia and Hungary are in the habit of holding orgies at which all the ceremonies of the ancient Liberalia, Floralia, and Saturnalia are duplicated. These devotees claim that, when they have reached the acme of religious enthusiasm, the spirit of God directs them, hence their licentious and lustful acts cannot be immoral.
When Great Britain was invaded and conquered by northern savages, the latter, unquestionably, introduced their own religious beliefs, which were largely phallic in character. The Teutonic god Fréa was the same as the Latin Priapus; while Friga, from whom our Friday gets its name, because this day was sacred to her, was the Teutonic Venus. Fréa is called Freyr in old Norse, and in old German, Fro.
Among the Swedes he was worshiped under the name of Fricco, and a statue of him at Upsala represented him in the characteristic attitude of the god of procreation. “Tertius est Fricco, pacem voluptatemque largiens mortalibus, cujus etiam simulachrum fingunt ingenti priapo.” From this god a vulgar word for copulation had its origin. This word is in use to-day among the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, thus proving that the worship of the generative principle was in vogue among our own immediate ancestors.
Statuettes of Priapus, bronzes representing the sexual organs, and pottery covered with phallic scenes have been found all over England. These relics are remembrances of the Roman occupation when the worship of Priapus prevailed. In the parish of Adel, Yorkshire, was found an altar erected to Priapus, who seems to be called in this instance Mentula. At this place were found many other priapic relics, such as lamps, bracelets, amulets, etc., etc. Several images of the triple phallus, as well as the single phallus, have been brought to light in London; also phallic lamps, bracelets, etc.
All over England the Anglo-Saxon Fréa, or Friga, has left remembrances of his or her worship in place-names. Fridaythorpe in Yorkshire, and Friston (Fréa’s stone), which occurs in several parts of England, are examples. “We seem justified in supposing that this and other names commencing with the syllable Fri or Fry, are so many monuments of the existence of phallic worship among our Anglo-Saxon forefathers.” There are other words in the English language which point directly to this ancient religion; for instance, fascinate and fascination. These words were derivede directly from the Latin word fascinum, which was one of the names of the male organ of generation. The fascinum was worn suspended from the necks of women, and was supposed to possess magical powers; hence, to fascinate. Horace makes use of the word in Priapeia:
That the worship of the fascinum was in vogue during the eighth century in Italy and in other countries under the religious jurisdiction of the Pope, the following from the Judicia Sacerdotalia Criminibus, clearly indicates: “If any one has performed incantation to the fascinum, or any incantation whatever, except one who chaunts the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, let him do penance on bread and water during three Lents.”
During the ninth century the Council of Chalons promulgated a similar law, and in the twelfth century Buchardus repeats it, thus showing that the worship of the generative principle was continuous throughout that time. That the worship of the fascinum was in vogue as late as 1247 is proven by the statutes of the Synod of Mans, which declare that he who worships the fascinum shall be seriously dealt with.
In Scotland, as late as 1268, according to the Chronicles of Lanercroft, the people were in the habit of rubbing two pieces of wood together until fire was produced. At the same time an image of the phallus was elevated, and certain prayers were said to Priapus. This was the famous “need fire,” and was obtained in this way in order that it might have the power of saving the cattle from the plague. Need fire was produced in this manner in the Highlands as late as 1356, at which time a cattle plague ravaged the country side. In Inverkeithing, a Catholic priest gathered all the young girls of the village and made them dance around a statue of Priapus. He himself led the dance, carrying a large wooden image of the phallus, and excited these medieval bacchantes to licentious movements and actions by his own actions and language.
When called to account by his bishop, he excused his action by stating that such performances were common in his parish. These phallic observances occurred in Easter week, March 29-April 15, 1282.
In Ireland, the female sexual organs seem to have been the symbol of phallic worship most in use. In the arches over the doorways of churches, a female figure, with the person fully exposed, was invariably so placed that the external organs of generation at once caught the eye. These figures were called Shela-na-gig, which in Irish means “Julian the giddy.” Sometimes these images were placed on the walls and used as caryatides. From this symbol the horseshoe’s power to ward off evil and bring good luck has been evolved. The people in olden times were in the habit of painting, or sketching with charcoal, drawings of the female genitalia over the doors of their houses to ward off bad luck. These drawings were necessarily rude, and probably resembled a horseshoe more than they did the object for which they were intended. In course of time, when the symbol had lost its original significance, the horseshoe entirely took the place of the phallic image.
Herodotus says that Sesostris, king of Egypt, was in the habit of erecting pillars in the countries conquered by his armies, on which he had the female genitals engraved in order to show his contempt. I think that the historian misinterprets the meaning of the pillars; the Egyptians were phallic worshipers, and these obelisks were, in all probability, altars to Priapus.
The beneficent influence of this particular phallic symbol has been well brought out in several classical stories. When Ceres was wandering over the world in her search after Proserpine, she came to the house of a peasant woman, Baubo by name. Baubo saw that the goddess was heart-sick and miserable, so she offered her a drink of cyceon (???e??). The goddess refused the refreshing mixture, and continued her lamentations. Fully believing in the virtue and efficacy of the symbol, Baubo lifted her robe and showed Ceres her genitals. The goddess burst into laughter and at once drank the cyceon. The same superstition appears in a celebrated book of the sixteenth century, Le Moyen de Parvenir. The author of the “Worship of the Generative Powers” gives the following instructive extract from this work:
Hermès. On nomme ainsi ceux qui n’ont point vu le con de leur femme ou de leur garce. Le pauvre valet de chez nous n’étoit donc pas coquebin; il eut beau le voir.
Hermès. Attendez, étant en fiançailles, il vouloit prendre le cas de sa fiancée; elle ne le vouloit pas: il faisoit le malade, et elle lui demandoit: “Qu’y a-t-il, mon ami?” “Hélas, ma mie, je suis si malade, que je n’en puis plus; je mourrai si je ne vois ton cas.” “Vraiment voire?” dit-elle. “Hélas! oui, si je l’avois vu, je guérirois.” Elle ne lui voulut point montrer; à la fin, ils furent mariés. Il advint, trois ou quatre mois après, qu’il fut fort malade; et il envoya sa femme au médicin pour porter de son eau. En allant, elle s’avisa de ce qu’il lui avoit dit en fiançailles. Elle retourna vitement, et se vint mettre sur le lit; puis, levant cotte et chemise lui présenta son cela en belle vue, et lui disoit: “Jean, regarde le con, et te guéris.”
Sir William Hamilton writes to Richard Payne Knight from Naples in the year 1781, as follows:
“Having last year made a curious discovery, that in a province of this kingdom, not fifty miles from its capital, a sort of devotion is still paid to Priapus, the obscene divinity of the ancients (though under another denomination), I have thought it a circumstance worth recording; particularly as it offers a fresh proof of the similitude of the Popish and Pagan religion, so well observed by Dr. Middleton in his celebrated Letter from Rome; therefore I mean to deposit the authentic proofs of this assertion in the British Museum when a proper opportunity shall offer.” Sir William goes on to relate how he found many phallic amulets, charms, etc., in the possession of the people, and then describes the votive offerings laid upon the altar at a feast given in honor of Saints Cosmus and Damianus, in a church called by their names. The offerings were waxen images of the phallus. “The vows are chiefly presented by the female sex,” continues he, “and they are seldom such as represent legs, arms, etc., but most commonly the male parts of generation. A person who was at this fête in the year 1780, told me that he heard a woman say, at the time she presented a vow, ‘Santo Cosimo benedetto, cosi lo voglio.’”
This church was in Isernia, a little village about fifty miles from Naples, and away from the direct line of travel, hence its inhabitants saw little of the world, and therefore kept to their old customs longer than their more favored neighbors. Thus it happened that, even in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Priapus had his votaries almost within the shadow of the Vatican! These phallic rites were finally abolished by episcopal command.
One of the most common amulets or charms against jettitura, or the “evil eye,” the bête noire of every Italian, is a little coral hand. The middle finger of this hand is extended, thus representing the penis, while the other fingers are closed on the palm, thus representing the testicles. In ancient times, when a man extended his hand, closed in this manner, it was a gesture of insult and anger; to-day this gesture is only made in derision and contempt. The hand closed in this way, or, rather, with the thumb projecting between the first and second fingers (another very common phallic symbol or sign), was called a “fig”; hence, the old expression of contempt and indifference, “a fico for you, sir,” now modernized into “I don’t care a fig.”
France, as well as Italy, had her phallic charms and her phallic saints. Priapus was a god to the ancients—to the people of the Middle Ages he was a saint. According to M. Dulaure, in the south of France, Provence, Languedoc, and the Lyonnais, he was worshiped under the name of St. Foutin. This name is derived from that of the first bishop of Lyons, Fotinus, to whom the people had transferred (as they have done to many other sainted individuals) the distinguishing characteristics of a god; in this instance, Priapus. At Lyons there was an immense wooden phallus, and the women were in the habit of scraping this image, and then steeping the wood-dust in water, which they drank as a remedy against barrenness. Sometimes they gave it to the men in order to stimulate sexuality or sensuality. At Varailles, in Provence, waxen images of the male and female sexual organs were offered to St. Foutin, and, since these images were suspended from the ceiling and moved by every vagrant current of air, the effect was sometimes very astonishing. “Témoin Saint Foutin de Varailles en Provence, auquel sont dédiées les parties honteuses de l’un et de l’ autre sexe, formées en cire; le plancher de la chapelle en est fort garni, et, quand le vent les fait entrebattre, cela débauche un peu les dévotions à l’honneur de ce Saint.”
This worship at Varailles was identical with that of Isernia; the votive offerings were waxen images or models of the genital organs, while the saints differed only in name, not in character. At Embrun the worship of St. Foutin was a little different. The women at this last mentioned place poured wine on the phallus; this wine was collected in a bucket, and, when it became sour, it was used as a medicine for barrenness.
When Embrun was besieged and taken by the Protestants in 1585, this phallus was found among the other sacred relics, and its head “was red with the wine which had been poured upon it.” In the church of St. Eutropius, at Orange, a large phallus covered with leather was seized and burnt by the Protestants in 1562. Dulaure says that the sexual organs were objects of worship at Porighy, Viviers, Vendre in the Bourbonnais, Cives, Auxerre, Puy-en-Velay, and at hundreds of other places. Some of these phalli were recreated as fast as they were worn away by zealous devotees. They were so arranged in the walls of the churches that, “as the phallic end in front became shortened (by scrapings), a blow from a mallet from behind thrust it forward, so that it was restored to its original length.”
In the public square of Batavia there was formerly kept a bronze cannon which had been captured from the natives. The touch-hole of this piece of ordnance was made in the shape of a phallic hand or “fig,” which I have described elsewhere. The barren Malay women were in the habit of seating themselves on this hand in order that they might become pregnant. An analogous custom was prevalent in France and elsewhere in Europe during the Middle Ages. This habit led to sexual abuses, and was finally condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. Indeed, the Church inflicted severe penances on the women who were guilty of using phalli: “Mulier qualique molimine aut se ipsam aut cum altera fornicans tres annos poeniteat, unum ex his pane et aqua. Cum sanctimoniali per machinam fornicans, annos septem poeniteat, duos ex his in pane et aqua.” We see by this that nuns were more severely punished than were other women.
This use of the phallus is mentioned in the Bible, where it is bitterly condemned by one of the prophets: “Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them.” Finally, it was the custom of the young girls of France during the Middle Ages (like the maidens of certain savage races), who were on the eve of marriage, to offer up to St. Foutin their last maiden robes. From the evidence here adduced, we see that phallic worship existed in some parts of Europe as late as the latter half of the eighteenth century, and that it was almost universal during the Middle Ages. According to Becan, Golnitz, and other historians, there were several other phallic saints besides St. Foutin who were worshiped in Belgium, Spain, Germany and other European countries; but, since their adoration was similar to that of St. Foutin, I do not think it necessary to give a description of it here. It has been shown conclusively that worship of the generative principle was in vogue among the Latins, the Greeks, the ancient Germans, the Saxons, the Danes, the Gauls, the Iberians, the Picts, the Celts and the Britons. It has been demonstrated, also, that vestiges of phallic worship existed in England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany during the Middle Ages. As late as the latter part of the eighteenth century wax images of the phallus were used as votive offerings in the town of Isernia, not many miles from Naples; the beribboned Maypole of our Mayday festival is but the flower decked phallus of the Roman matrons; charms against jettitura, “the evil eye,” little coral hands with the middle finger extended (in ancient days one of the most common symbols of Priapus) can still be purchased in the streets of Rome. “This worship” (that of Priapus) “which was but part of that of the generative powers, appears to have been the most ancient of the superstitions of the human race, and has prevailed more or less among all known peoples before the introduction of Christianity; and, singularly enough, so deeply it seems to have been implanted in human nature that even the promulgation of the gospel did not abolish it, for it continued to exist, accepted and often encouraged by the medieval clergy.”
So very ancient was the inception of the worship of the generative principle that we have some reason for believing that even the cave-dwellers practiced this cult. It was stated in the Moniteur, January, 1865, that “in the province of Venice, in Italy, excavations in a bone-cave have brought to light, beneath ten feet of stalagmite, bones of animals, mostly post-tertiary, of the usual description found in such places, flint implements, with a needle of bone having an eye and point, and a plate of argillaceous compound, on which was scratched a rude drawing of the phallus.” Thus we see that, possibly, from the time of the cave-dwellers to almost the beginning of the nineteenth century, phallic worship existed in Southern Europe! From the Sagas, folklore tales, and myths of the Norse we have every reason for believing that it existed for almost as great a length of time in Northern Europe. That in Western Europe, before and during the Middle Ages, it flourished in a variety of forms, we have unimpeachable testimony.
In this brief outline of phallic worship I have endeavored to show that the worship of the generative principle has been universal; that it is still practiced by primitive peoples, and that vestiges of it lingered among certain civilized peoples until, comparatively speaking, a recent time. In order to show what a height of idealization and abstraction it had reached at a time when Greece stood at the head of the civilized world, I will close this part of my essay with the following quotation from Knight’s strong, erudite, and exhaustive treatise: “The ancient theologists … finding that they could conceive no idea of infinity, were content to revere the Infinite Being in the most general and efficient exertion of his power—attraction; whose agency is perceptible through all matter, and to which all motion may, perhaps, be ultimately traced. His agency being supposed to extend through the whole material world, and to produce all the various revolutions by which its system is sustained, his attributes were, of course, extremely numerous and varied. These were expressed by various titles and epithets in the mystic hymns and litanies, which the artists endeavored to represent by various forms and characters of men and animals. The great characteristic attribute was represented by the organ of generation in that state of tension and rigidity which is necessary to the due performance of its functions. Many small images of this kind have been found among the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, attached to bracelets, which the chaste and pious matrons of antiquity wore round their necks and arms. In these the organ of generation appears alone, or accompanied by the wings of incubation, in order to show that the wearer devoted herself wholly and solely to procreation, the great end for which she was ordained. So expressive a symbol, being constantly in view, must keep her attention fixed on its natural object, and continually remind her of the gratitude she owed the Creator for having taken her into his service, made her partaker of his most valuable blessings, and employed her as the passive instrument in the exertion of his most beneficial power. The female organs of generation were revered as symbols of the generative power of nature or matter, as the male’s were of the generative powers of God.”
|Written By James Weir|
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