Sacred Texts  Sacred Sexuality  Index  Previous  Next 

IT will not be necessary for me to give details of the rites by which the phallic superstition is distinguished, as they may be found in the works of Dulaure, 1 Payne Knight, 2 and other writers. I shall refer to them, therefore, only so far as may be required for the due understanding of the subject to be considered--the influence of the Phallic idea in the religions of antiquity. The first step in the inquiry is to ascertain the origin of the superstition in question. Faber ingeniously referred to a primitive universal belief in a great father, the curious connection seen to exist between nearly all non-Christian mythologies, and he saw in phallic worship a degradation of this belief. Such an explanation as this is, however, not satisfactory; since, not only does it require the assumption of a primitive divine revelation, but proof is still wanting that all peoples have, or ever had, any such notion of a great parent of mankind as that supposed to have been revealed. And yet there is a valuable germ of truth in this hypothesis. The phallic superstition is founded essentially in the family idea. Captain Richard Burton recognized this truth when he asserted that "amongst all barbarians whose primal want is progeny, we observe a greater or less development of the phallic worship." 3 This view, however, is imperfect. There must have been something more than a mere desire for progeny to lead primitive man to view the generative process with the peculiar feelings embodied in this superstition. We are, in fact, here taken to the root of all religions--awe at the mysterious and unknown. That which the uncultured mind cannot understand is viewed with dread or veneration, as it may be, and the object presenting the mysterious phenomenon may itself be worshipped as a fetish, or the residence of a presiding spirit. But there is nothing more mysterious than the phenomena of generation, and nothing more important than the final result of the generative act. Reflection on this result would naturally cause that which led to it to be invested with a certain degree of superstitious significance. The feeling generated would have a double object, as it had a double origin--wonder at the phenomenon itself and a perception of the value of its consequences. The former, which is the most simple, would lead to a veneration for the organs whose operation conduced to the phenomena--hence the superstitious practices connected with the phallus and the yoni among primitive peoples. In this, moreover, we have the explanation of numerous curious facts observed among eastern peoples. Such is the respect shown by women for the generative organ of dervishes and fakirs. 4 Such also is the Semitic custom referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures as "the putting of the hand under the thigh," which is explained by the Talmudists to be the touching of that part of the body which is sealed and made holy by circumcision: a custom which was, up to a recent date, still in use among the Arabs as the most solemn guarantee of truthfulness. 5

The second phase of the phallic superstition is that which arises from a perception of the value of the consequences of the act of generation. The distinction between this and the preceding phase is that, while the one has relation to the organs engaged, the other refers more particularly to the chief agent. Thus, the father of the family is venerated as the generator; this authority is founded altogether on the act and consequences of generation. We thus see the fundamental importance, as well as the phallic origin, of the family idea. From this has sprung the social organization of all primitive peoples.

An instance in point may be derived from Mr. Hunter's account of the Santals of Bengal. He says that the classification of this interesting people among themselves depends, "not upon social rank or occupation, but upon the family basis." This is shown by the character of the six great ceremonies in a Santal's life, which are: "admission into the family; admission into the tribe; admission into the race; union of his own tribe with another by marriage; formal dismission from the living race by incremation; lastly, a reunion with the departed fathers." 6

We may judge from this of the character of certain customs which are widespread among primitive peoples, and the phallic origin of which has long been lost sight of. The value set on the results of the generative act would naturally make the arrival at the age of puberty an event of peculiar significance. Hence, we find various ceremonies performed among primitive, and even among civilized, peoples at this period of life. Often when the youth arrives at manhood other rites are performed to mark the significance of the event.

Marriage, too, derives an importance from its consequences which otherwise it would not possess. Thus, among many peoples it is attended with certain ceremonies denoting its object, or, at least, marking it as an event of peculiar significance in the life of the individual, or even in the history of the tribe. The marriage ceremonial is especially fitted for the use of phallic rites or symbolism; the former, among semi-civilized peoples, often being simply the act of consummation itself, which appears to be looked on as part of the ceremony. The symbolism we have ourselves retained to the present day in the wedding-ring, which must have had a phallic origin, if, as appears probable, it originated in the Samothracian mysteries. 7 Nor does the influence of the phallic idea end with life. The veneration entertained for the father of the family as the "generator," led in time to peculiar care being taken of the bodies of the dead; and, finally, to the worship of ancestors, which, under one form or another, distinguished all the civilized nations of antiquity, as it does even now most of the peoples of the heathen world.

Next: Circumcision