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Phallic Amulets

The use of priapic figures as amulets, to be carried on the person as preservatives against the evil eye and other noxious influences, which we have spoken of as so common among the Romans, was certainly continued through the middle ages, and, as we shall see presently, has not entirely disappeared. It was natural enough to believe that if this figure were salutary when merely looked upon, it must be much more so when carried constantly on the person. The Romans gave the name fascinum, in old French fesne, to the phallic amulet, as well as to the same figure under other circumstances. It is an object of which we could hardly expect to find direct mention in mediæval writers, but we meet with examples of the object itself, usually made of lead (a

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proof of its popular character), and ranging in date perhaps from the fourteenth to the earlier part of the sixteenth century. As we owe our knowledge of these phallic amulets almost entirely to one collector, M. Forgeais of Paris, who obtained them chiefly from one source--the river Seine, our present acquaintance with them may be considered as very limited, and we have every reason for believing that they had been in use during the earlier period. We can only illustrate this part of the subject by describing a few of these mediæval phallic amulets, which are preserved in some private collections; and we will first call attention to a series of objects, the real purpose of which appears to be very obscure. They are small leaden tokens or medalets, bearing on the obverse the figure of the male or female organ, and on the reverse a cross, a curious intimation of the adoption of the worship of the generative powers among Christians. These leaden tokens, found in the river Seine, were first collected and made known to antiquaries by M. Forgeais, who published examples of them in his work on the leaden figures found in that river. 47 We give five examples of the medals of each sex, obverse and reverse. 48 It will be seen that the phalli

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on these tokens are nearly all furnished with wings; one has a bird's legs and claws; and on another there is an evident intention to represent a bell suspended to the neck. These characteristics show either a very distinct tradition of the forms of the Roman phallic ornament, or an imitation of examples of Roman phalli then existing--possibly the latter. But this is not necessary, for the bells borne by two examples, given in our next plate, and also taken from the collection of M. Forgeais are mediæval, and not Roman bells, though these also represent well-known ancient forms of treating the subject. In the first, 49 a female is riding upon the phallus, which has men's legs, and is held by a bridle. This figure was evidently intended to be attached to the dress as a brooch, for the pin which fixed it still remains on the back. Two other examples  50 present figures of winged phalli, one with a bell, and the other with the ring remaining from which the bell has no doubt been broken. One of these has the dog's legs. A fourth example 51 represents an enormous phallus attached to the middle of a small man. In another, 52 which was evidently intended for suspension, probably

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at the neck, the organs of the two sexes are joined together. Three other leaden figures, 53 apparently amulets, which were in the Forgeais collection, offer a very peculiar variety of form, representing a figure, which we might suppose to be a male by its attributes, though it has a very feminine look, and wears the robe and hood of a woman. Its peculiarity consists in having a phallus before and behind. We have on the same plate  54 a still more remarkable example of the combination of the cross with the emblems of the worship of which we are treating, in an object found at San Agati di Goti, near Naples, which was formerly in the Beresford Fletcher collection, and is now in that of Ambrose Ruschenberger, Esq., of Boston, U. S. It is a crux ansata, formed by four phalli, with a circle of female organs round the centre; and appears by the loop to have been intended for suspension. As this cross is of gold, it had no doubt been made for some personage of rank, possibly an ecclesiastic; and we can hardly help suspecting that it had some connection with priapic ceremonies or festivities. The last figure on the same plate is also taken from the collection of M. Forgeais. 55 From the monkish cowl and the cord

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round the body, we may perhaps take it for a satire upon the friars, some of whom wore no breeches, and they were all charged with being great corruptors of female morals.

In Italy we can trace the continuous use of these phallic amulets down to the present time much more distinctly than in our more Western countries. There they are still in very common use, and we give two examples 56 of bronze amulets of this description, which are commonly sold in Naples at the present day for a carlo, equivalent to fourpence in English money, each. One of them, it will be seen, is encircled by a serpent. So important are these amulets considered for the personal safety of those who possess them, that there is hardly a peasant who is without one, which he usually carries in his waistcoat pocket.


60:47 Notice sur des Plombs Historiés trouvés dans la Seine, et recueillis par Arthur Forgeais. 8vo. Paris, 1858.

60:48 See our Plate IX.

63:49 Plate X, Fig. 1.

63:50 Plate X, Figs. 2 and 3.

63:51 Plate X, Fig. 4.

63:52 Plate X, Fig. 5.

64:53 Plate XI, Figs. 1, 2, and 3.

64:54 Plate XI, Fig. 4.

64:55 Plate XI, Fig. 5.

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