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The Story Of Religious Controversy
by Joseph McCabe
Phallic Elements in Religion
SCIENCE enables you to see the world grow. It produces a slow moving-picture of the unfolding of the epic of the universe.
History enables you to see humanity grow. It produces a slow moving-picture of the unfolding of the drama of the race. The picture afforded by history is a part, selected and enlarged, of the great scientific picture of all reality. History is a brand of science.
In the moving-picture which history offers us no scene or series of scenes is so fascinating as the correct delineation of the progress of religion through the ages; and I would venture to say that the most piquant episode in the religious story is the growth of what is called “Christian reticence” precisely at a time when, and in proportion as, Christianity is disappearing.
There is nothing quite so amusing amongst the clotted errors of clerical eloquence as the suggestion that our manners will become grosser, our sex-impulses will burst every frail check and pour out like molten lava, if the old religion is discarded. Our manners have the delicacy of a painting by Watteau, of a fine Dresden vase, of an essay by Walter Pater, in comparison with the manners of our Christian predecessors.
As I walk the streets of London, I see prints and caricatures from the eighteenth century exhibited in the windows of curio shops. The police ignore them only because they are antiquities. The legs of fat Hanoverian dames and slim demi-mondaines are shown in every phase of disorder of clothing. I go to see plays by Fletcher; and only the boldest ladies will now venture to hear phrases which once made all London rock with laughter. I read “Tom Jones,” or the plays of Sheridan, or “Venus and Adonis” and certain comedies of Shakespeare; and then I hear that an author has been dismissed from the French Academy for writing “La Garconne,” and that the police of Los Angeles have arrested an entire theatrical company for playing “Desire Under the Elms.”
The irony of this new modesty — I mean, of this growth of modesty amidst the visible failing of the religion which claims to have a monopoly of it — breaks upon one overpoweringly when one approaches the subject of the present chapter. If you reflect, you soon perceive that coarseness of phraseology lingers longest in religious literature. A Catholic maid would hardly mention the word “womb” in conversation except under compulsion and with a blush; but she repeats every night in the prayers, “Blessed is the fruit of the womb, Jesus.” A good Protestant maid would have paralysis of the vocal organs if she tried to say whore”; but it confronts her in her Bible, and flows sonorously from the lips of her preachers, over and over again. “Fornication” has almost dropped out of the dictionary; but not out of the Bible.
And these are but a few fragments of a great sex-candor which in earlier ages characterized all religion. An American maid wears a ring or a broach with the name “mizpah” on it. She thinks, vaguely, that it is a charm, an omen of good luck. What in reality is it?
The learned dictionary sends you, or ought to send you, to the thirty-first chapter of Genesis. The Hebrew text has been discreetly translated, but you read plainly enough the following story: Jacob, the chosen of the Lord, has fled from his father-in- law, stealthily, with all his goods. Rachel, the chosen of Jacob, has stolen her father’s “images”: that is to say, the crude models of sex-organs to which Laban prays for the fertility of his cattle and wines. Laban follows in pursuit, to recover his precious carvings, and Rachel sweetly sits on them, on her camel, and lies to her father, saying that she has her monthly visitation and cannot rise. So Laban is cheated; and he and Jacob raise up a stone pillar, — that is, a rough image of the phallus, and swear on that sacred object what they will do to each other if either misbehaves again. And that is Mizpah; which the sweet young maid fingers tenderly on her ring on the way to church.
It is amazing what the world has forgotten and how, having forgotten, it has made fairy tales of the past. Christian reticence! Why, in the Middle Ages, when everybody who liked not the smell of his own burning flesh was a Christian, people handled phallic images as coolly as a medical student handles dead frogs. There were towns in the south of France where wax models of male organs hung in such bunches from the rafters of the church that when a wind blew, the worshipers complained that they were disturbed by the rattling.
There were towns in the center of France where, amongst the holy relics in the sacristy, was a withered thing which the priests represented to be the authentic phallus of the patron saint of the great church; and the end of it was red with the libations of wine which pious women had poured upon it.
There were towns in the north of France — I choose especially, “the eldest daughter of the Church” — where ancient phallic idols had been turned into Christian saints, and had become objects of intense veneration. There were towns in Italy where, under the eyes of the Papacy (until Voltaireanism spread to Italy at the end of the eighteenth century), wax phallic images were, on the saint’s great feast day, sold to women by the thousand and presented by them, unblushing, to the priests. There were scores of churches in Ireland where a woman with exposed parts was carved on the door for every woman and child to see. There were churches in England and churches in Spain with the same very pronounced lack of Christian reticence.
I will return later to these relics of phallic cult under the Christian rule. Some lingered until the great Rationalists of the eighteenth century grew strong. Some lingered, where Rationalism had no influence, until recent times. And now — in this age of Materialism and Skepticism and Neo-paganism — the police would not permit us to reproduce photographs of such of these religious symbols as we still have; and we have to cloak our very words with the veil of pagan languages to express these facts of the religious life!
By “phallic elements in religion” I mean the worship of the human generative powers and of carvings or models of the human sex- organs. Rabelais, in the pious Middle Ages, found twenty current words for everything connected with sex. In our “degenerate” days there is not one which we consider it decent to use. This short chapter will be mainly concerned with the veneration of models of the male organ; and I have to speak of it as the phallos or penis or lingam, which are, respectively, the Greek, Latin, and Hindu names for it. I am concerned to a less extent with the religious veneration of models of the female organ; and this must be spoken of as the pudenda or the yoni, the Latin and Hindu names. Finally, if, following the custom of learned experts, I have at times to speak of “ithyphallic,” I must not venture to explain more closely than to say that the Greek word ithys means “straight” or “straight up.
These things are not mere technicalities. They suggest a most important truth: that, contrary to the dogmatic conviction of orthodox people,. outspokenness about sex has been allied to religion almost all through the ages until modern times. What modern divine would write to ladies as St. Jerome, the greatest ascetic of the fourth century, wrote to the aristocratic Christian ladies of his day? What theologian or preacher would now dare to draw an illustration, as St. Augustine did, from the fimus infantis, or say that Priapus was deified propter magnitudinem instrumenti sui? To translate those phrases literally I should have to use words that have not appeared in print since the seventeenth century. And after the fourth century manners became grosser. Abelard, the most brilliant scholar of the Middle Ages, was castrated by the hirelings of a canon of the Paris cathedral. Saintly monks slept with saintly nuns to prove their self-control. Women penitents were driven thorough the street in their smocks; and men were paraded in women’s skirt lift d above the waist. But the list would be endless. We shall see enough of this later.
Why, then, it may be asked, disturb or offend this new modesty of the world, a product of Rationalist days, by going back over these strange sexual aberrations of religion? We have purified modern literature so much that — to quote a case within my knowledge — the English postal police open books from Germany and send back serious scientific works on sex; and their American colleagues imitate the prudery. We have forced Polynesian maids to wear our linens and calicoes: and die of pneumonia. We have tried to make even the Hindus hide their lingam and yoni. Never was there such a campaign of modesty in the world before.
A recent writer on Phallism says that to deal with religion and omit the phallic elements is like trying to produce “Hamlet” without the Prince of Denmark. We need not go so far. It is enough that phallic elements have had an extraordinary part in the development of religion, and it would be mere pedantry or prudery to ignore them. We may admit that some writers on the subject have exaggerated. They see phallic emblems in the bishop’s mitre, the crozier, the church steeple and bell, the Catholic pyx and monstrance, the crescent and the cross, the mortar and pestle, and a thousand other things. It cannot even be regarded as proved that the cross is, as they say, an emblem of phallic origin, though it seems probable.
But apart from all these speculations, the phallic content of religion, in every continent, in all ages, has been extraordinary; and when nature-religions with such a content become ethical religions, the mingling of ancient “impurity” with the new zeal for “purity” affords one of the most grotesque spectacles in the human comedy. In ancient Babylonia, with all its zeal for purity, there seems to have been still some practice of sacred prostitution. We must trace steadily the growth of sexual religion which explains these and other phenomena.
The study will be of interest and importance also in helping us to understand ethical ideas about sex. There is a particular need for elucidating our ideas, for some strain of ancient thought still influences our moral judgments and leads to one of the most singular paradoxes of our time: the growth of a rebellion against “morality” in a generation which is the most moral the world has yet seen. We shall be much better able to understand this when we have studied the relation of religion to sex.
But is it worth while? Are we not merely poking into obscure corners of the religious past in search of these aberrations of the human mind? Not in the least. One of the most recent writers on the subject, Clifford Howard, observes that there are more than a hundred million actual phallic worshipers today in India alone, and three times as many in the world (“Sex Worship”). One of the leading British authorities on the science of religion, Sidney Hartland, shows in a long article (Phallism) in the “Dictionary of Ethics and Religion,” that the phallic cult has spread over the entire world in all ages. The most recent writer on the subject, J.B. Hannay — not to speak of older authorities like Payne Knight and General Farlong — traces phallism into nearly every field of the religious life. But we will at once establish the importance of the, subject from the point of view of this book, by tracing phallic elements in the Bible itself.
Phallism In The Old Testament
In the book of Exodus (xxv 10, to xxvii 19, and xxxvi 8, to xxxviii 31) there are two long descriptions of the “Tabernacle” or glorified tent, which was the Hebrew place of worship until Solomon is supposed to have built his gorgeous temple.
As I show in “The Forgery of the Old Testament,” Exodus is a fifth-century forgery, very obviously fabricated by the Jewish priests when they saw, and were envious of, the power of the Babylonian priests. But this description is so minute and precise that readers of the Bible have, until modern times, never had the least doubt that it was written at the time of the making of the Tabernacle. We now see, on examining the account closely, not only that the material could not possibly have been got by the Hebrews in “the desert,” but that the details of the construction are contradictory and the whole plan impracticable. It is a sheer literary fiction by a priest with a lively imagination.
But there is one point in this fiction, ignored by the learned critical divines, to which J.B. Hannay calls attention. Read your Exodus, xxvi. The great tent was to have a covering of goats’ skins, of “rams’ skins dyed red,” and of “badgers’ skins.” The last word is, notoriously, a mistranslation of an obscure word, and Mr. Hannay suggests “dolphins’ skins.” In any case, these coverings are, if you can find your way amongst the bewildering details of the description, so drawn over at one end to meet in a closed slit through which the high priest forces his way dramatically during the great festival, that, if you care to draw the result (inner layer of fine skins, round this sheepskin dyed red, and round this hairy goat skin) with a child’s colored crayons, you will burn the drawing at once, lest your wife or daughter see it.
Mr. Hannay, whose learning and industry are prodigious, is one of those phallic writers who find the emblems everywhere; but I do not see how any person can read these details and not admit the phallic meaning. The “Tabernacle” never existed, except on paper, but divines justly conclude that there was some sort of large tent for the “ark of the covenant” during the wandering in the desert and until some sort of temple was built by somebody. The priestly writer of Exodus seems to have incorporated and glorified the description of this tent in his piece of fiction. It was phallic.
When you realize what the “Feast of Tabernacles” was, you are more disposed to believe this. The Greek writer Plutarch must have shocked the Jews of his time by describing it, quite honestly, as a Dionysiac festival: a feast in honor of the Hebrew equivalent of the god Dionysus or Bacchus. In effect, it was. Even conservative divines admit that it was the harvest festival; and so it is clear that the priests, in recasting the religion and history of the Jews, had seized upon this old and popular festival and — as was done all over the world — given it a new religious meaning. It was to be celebrated in memory of the sojourn in tents in the desert.
It was the gayest of all Jewish feasts. For seven days the people lived in tents, made of the branches of olive, pine, myrtle, and palm trees, on the roofs of their houses or in the streets and open spaces. Wine and love were, as in harvest festivals all the world over, the chief rites of the great festival. Little bowers of fragrant vine and myrtle branches were inspiring places of retreat for the young folk. There were mysterious libations, which no one now understands; but libations constitute one of the chief and most significant rites of the phallic cult. There was a grand illumination of the women’s court at night. There was continual music and dancing. And there were mysterious wands or rods of intertwined branches to be borne in the hand by everybody; just as in the Greek Baccbanalia, the great feast of wine and sex.
If it seems to anybody that this sex-element was just a human importation into a purely “religious” festival, let us invite him to turn back to the really older parts of the Old Testament. The priestly writers of Exodus lived, as their language alone would suffice to show, only about 500 B.C.; though bits of more archaic language are embedded in their work. These oldest sections are two documents, cut into fragments and put in a piece here and a piece there, known as the Jahvist and Elohist documents. They may go back to the tenth century, and are chiefly used in Genesis. Naturally, they have been modified by the later priestly compilers, but we shall see that they are still eloquent. Palestine was one great region of phallic cult, and the early Hebrews were as naive and jealous in it as their neighbors.
You never noticed this? You think that it may be one of these fanciful interpretations of modern scholars? Well, one reason why the ordinary Bible reader may escape noticing it is that the English translation of the Old Testament, though gross enough in its sonorous language about whoring and fornication, really tones down the original. The Hebrew text itself had, in fact, been modified by the Rabbis who expressly said that much of it required “modernizing,” as we say, even two thousand years ago. The “revealed” word was too crude to meet the merely pagan eye of other nations.
Sometimes, in fact, the translation of the text is legitimate enough, yet it really conceals the grossness of the writer and of those for whom he wrote. “Male and female created he them,” says Genesis (i, 27). What is wrong with that? Only that the word nequebah, which is translated “female,” means “the thing to be bored”; and that was the ancient Hebrew conception of woman — that and nothing more. (The word for male, zakhar, is, by the way, given by some phallic writers as meaning “borer.” This is incorrect. It means “memory”). The story of the Fall is just as crudely sexual.
But we will avoid subtleties, and take a broad view of this early history embedded in the fiction of Genesis. I give up in despair “the sons of God” who had intercourse with “the daughters of men,” and begot a race of giants and of people so wicked that God had to destroy nearly the whole race. Apparently the human race, though cursed from the start, would have got on tolerably morally if these mysterious “sons of God” had not interfered with its daughters. The whole of this is, however, Babylonian fiction, as we have seen. What one might plausibly claim to be to some extent a history of the Hebrews begins in Chapter xii.
Notice, however, a very peculiar episode in Chapter ix. the well-known story of the curse of Ham (and the black race). Noah “was drunken. and he was uncovered within his tent.” Ham had some reason to go in, and he “saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.” Just what any youth would do. Yet we are asked to believe that these two Hebrew youths in the semi-barbaric period of the race walked backward to cover their father, that Noah “knew what his younger son had done unto him,” and that God’s heavy curse fell upon the frivolous Ham and his posterity forever! Daniel, the great king, danced naked centuries afterwards before all the people and God. Prophets stalked the land naked, and were proud of it. But we are asked to believe that in the very crudest days of the race there was a sexual delicacy equal to that of the most refined home in modern Philadelphia!
There is here some mystery, surely. Some of the old Rabbis said that what Ham really did was to castrate his father; and they point out that Noah dies in the next verse. As, however, Noah is understood to have been about nine hundred and fifty years old (and the “boys” about nine hundred) … We will not try to fathom the mystery this way. A modern scholar, Dr. Maurer, suggests in an article on Hebrew phallism (in the German “Globus,” 1907) that the real meaning is that sex was tabu in ancient Judea. I should say that it was precisely the opposite, and that Ham (if there is anything at all in the old story) did commit some outrage; and we shall at once see that this is more likely.
In Chapter xxiv, 2, Abraham calls his eldest servant and says: “Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh,” by way of a solemn oath. Israel (xlvii, 29) even in civilized Egypt calls his distinguished son Joseph to swear a solemn oath in the same peculiar way. Naturally the translation is euphemistic. The most solemn oath of the Hebrews — and they had a great variety — was to swear with your hand on a man’s testicles. It is a familiar oriental idea, common amongst the Arabs in recent times, and curiously enough the Latin word for those organs and for witnesses is, as we see in our words “‘testicles” and “testimony,” the same.
Which again raises a suspicion that “the ark of the testimony” was a receptacle, representing the female organ, containing male emblems. Phallic writers are sure of this, but we cannot prove it.
What was in the “ark” was a deadly secret: though later priestly writers said that their legendary “tables of the law” were in it. Modern divines scout the idea that the law would be thus stored in secret, and say that old sacred stones of some sort or other were in the box. And when we learn that phallic stones were sacred all over the region, and that, on one occasion, when enemies stole the ark, the punishment took the form of widespread syphilis (euphemistically translated “emerods”), there is reasonable ground to conclude that the center of the original Hebrew religion was a phallic emblem. The ark and its contents mysteriously disappeared when, at the time of the Babylonian captivity, the priests fabricated a more civilized religion.
In short, the old Hebrew religion was saturated with phallic elements until it was destroyed in the fifth century, under the inspiration of Persia and Babylonia. The Old Testament, though notoriously a fifth-century compilation, plainly tells us the situation.
The Phallic Stage
The phallic cult blends with the most intense desires of man himself. The worship and propitiation of other gods is a necessary evil, a burden. It is purely utilitarian. But the cult of the god of love is in the most perfect harmony with man’s most powerful impulse. The human element mingles with the religious. The phallus grows larger, the orgy more frequent.
That is one of the reasons for the universality and intensity of the phallic cult, and for the obstinacy with which it persists under and defeats ethical religions like the Hebrew, the Babylonian, the Egyptian, and even the Christian. Man really believes in the efficacy of the cult; but he also likes it. So the phallic cult has never been destroyed, It lingered in Europe openly until this skeptical age created modesty. But in our own day it is simply assuming new forms — close dancing, the revue, new music, sex-novels and so on — just as in the most religious of Christians (saintly nuns, etc.) it assumed new forms. Let us turn to Asia, and we find the phallic cult, even in our own time, as intense as ever, and very impatient of European and American restraints. In the Mongolian world it is not pronounced. Sex flows in well-ordered channels; the domestic life and the quite respectable brothel. It is as intense as elsewhere, but it long ago ceased to have a special religious significance.
Japan, which was civilized long after China, is more instructive. When the country began to be modernized in the early seventies, Americans were astounded to find, amongst one of the most sober and virtuous nations of the globe, an open and common exhibition of phallic emblems. In many of the old Shinto temples the statues of the gods were ithyphallic. Missionaries pronounced them obscene, and they disappeared. But the Japans could scarcely even understand what the missionaries meant. A friend of mine who lived in Japan in those early days told me that the people of a certain coast-village were told that, in deference to the peculiar feeling of these English and Americans, there must be no more mixed bathing, nude, in the summer time. So they, instead of making costumes, separated the sexes by a rope.
But India is the classic land of phallic worship. There is no doubt that the Hindus took over the phallic gult from this original population of the peninsula. In all the islands south of India we find an intense phallic cult. In the Barbar Archipelago we find a symbol of the sun in the shape of a man with stuffed phallus and testicles, and it is honored with orgies of sexual enjoyment. The man has a club which (as in most of the analogous cases, Hercules, etc.) originally represented a phallus. Phallism is often thus associated with sun-worship. In this case it is also associated with the crocodile, the emblem of bravery. The most religious needs of the tribes are progeny and strength. “The gods we serve are the gods who serve us.” said the great American Pragmatist.
In the Nias Islands, off Sumatra, the natives draw ithyphallic figures of their ancestors on the walls of their houses, and pray to them for progeny. In New Guinea — a much lower level, the Melanesian, at which phallism begins — certain tribes have special sleeping places for the youths and unmarried men. It sounds cloistral and virtuous; but in point of fact the walls are covered with ithyphallic figures of men and of sexual intercourse.
Celebes is a hot-bed of phallism: or was, until the Dutch began a campaign against it. Female figures with exaggerated breasts and pudenda and ithyphallic figures of males were carved all over the temples. In some temples the detached organs were represented in the act of commerce. In southern Celebes there is a phallic deity, Karaeng lowe, who has a body of priestesses, and is served with flowers and candles, especially on the two great annual festivals. Karaeng Iowe is a general god, but the deity of fertility in particular; and his usual emblems are the male and female organs. Ithyphallic gold figures also are found. Other tribes of the island have a god whose name actually means “the Phallus of the Ulisiwa.” In old days the natives had an ithyphallic statue of him seven feet high which was regarded with great pride and veneration. When the Dutch interfered with the cult, the natives hid the statue and worshiped it secretly for years.
Java also is intensely phallic. In some parts it is customary, at the time of the blossoming of the rice, for the proprietor of the field and his wife to go round it naked and have intercourse on it. This half-magical, half-religious recipe for a good harvest was not unknown in medieval Europe.
An amusing illustration of the inveterate phallism of the Javaness is given by an old writer. The Dutch had left an old cannon in a field, and the belief spread that it was a phallic god of the Europeans. Rice and fruit were offered to it and, with the full encouragement of the local priests, it was worshiped daily. Barren women, particularly, sought its aid. They would deck themselves in their best clothes — which are extremely elaborate and handsome in Java — and sit astride it, often two at a time, to the great amusement of European laymen and the scandal of the missionaries. The Dutch government was compelled to remove the deity.
Phallism Under Christianity
Let us say at once that Christianity, when it got the power, abolished all public manifestations of a phallic cult. That was of the very essence of its message. On its ethical side it was part of the reaction, felt throughout the Greco-Roman world, against the cult of sex. Apollonius of Tyana, Plutarch, Dion Chrysostom, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Julian, Seneca — the world was full of moralists and ascetics denouncing these things. The religions of Mithra, Serapis, and Manichaeus, and the philosophies of the Platonists and Neo-Platonists, the Stoics, and the Epicureans, were all trying to abolish them; and with more success than Christianity until the church got and used political power.
I am trying to give all relevant facts and to avoid all excesses of language or judgment. Christianity was bound to denounce phallism because it was in large part a campaign against sex-pleasure, if not all pleasure, and because it did not care a cent about the social aspect of fertility and progeny. It cut the two roots of phallism: the individual love of pleasure and the social concern about the supply of citizens and soldiers. I do not admire it for either stroke; but this is no place to decide between the “lilies and languors of virtue” and “the roses and raptures of vice.”
Our modern age would probably coldly judge that the suppression of the phallic cult was quite sensible — these old semi-magical forms to secure fertility were childish and futile but nothing to get excited about, and it was a pity sober men instead of ascetical fanatics had not charge of the work. The temples and graves of Ephesus, Antioch, Baalbek, Alexandria, etc., were “purified”; that is to say, a vast amount of beautiful works of art were destroyed. Women no longer sat on the organ of Priapus; but they were driven to the opposite and more deplorable extreme of forswearing love for life under the promise of a larger share of a legendary heaven. Matrons no longer gave each other phallic cakes; but they had to go to church, like criminals, after childbirth to be purified.”
And the vicious element in this puritan reaction was not long concealed. I am not going here to follow some of the writers on phallism in their discovery of phallic emblems all through the new religion. Christ called Cephas “Peter,” they say; which means a “rock” — the Old Testament phallic term! It is waste of time. If Christ ever did this — he certainly did not — phallic significance would be the last thing in his mind. He loathed sex, probably being an Essenian monk. Then there is the Holy Spirit as a dove: precisely the emblem of the phallic goddess! Yes: also the bird of Noah’s ark and the emblem of innocence, the Moslem bird of peace, and so on.
So it is with the fish, the ring, the mitre, the staff, the nave of a church, etc., etc. Those who wish may look for phallic significance in them. Even the cross was certainly not phallic in the mind of the early Christians; and it is impossible to find any positive evidence of its having a phallic origin. Cretans and Egyptians and others had it ages before the Christians. I have seen a perfect Greek cross in marble in the little chapel at Cnossos (Crete); and it is certainly fifteen hundred years older than the Greek church. We do not know what it meant; but it does not in the slightest degree suggest sex organs and was clearly not phallic. The Egyptian cross is more suggestive. It is plausible that this was originally a sex-emblem; and that is all we can say about it.
I turn to a far more serious and substantial point. Christianity nominally suppressed phallism on its positive side. It began to get power after the conversion of Constantine, in the fourth century. By the end of the fourth century all the phallic temples had gone up in smoke. By the end of the fifth century all the “pagans” (villagers) even had ceased to worship Cybele, Astarte, Aphrodite, Isis, Venus, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, Taminuz, Dionysus, and all the rest of the unholy family. Mary was substituted for Cybele-Isis-Ishtar; Jesus replaces Mithra-Tammuz- Osiris. The “pale Galilean” — or, rather, a pale priest at Milan named Ambrose — had conquered.
But Christianity was itself essentially an expression of the negative result of phallism, the ascetic reaction against it; and the result was deplorable. If Christianity had really won the world, as believers think, if Christian virtue had generally replaced pagan vice, we should still have to lay a tremendous indictment against it. The Protestant at last discovered the blunder, he might say the blasphemy, of all this fasting and hair- shirting and celibacy, and so on; but he never noticed the ghastly futile sacrifices which the Christian creed had meantime imposed upon the race for a thousand years — that is to say, if his version of the triumph of Christianity is true.
I have referred to the great temple of Aphrodite at Paphos, in Cyprus, where a white conical stone, anointed in feast-days, was the emblem of the goddess. Paphos is now Kuklia: one of these miserable villages which for two thousand years have sprawled over the site of all the glory of the Greco-Roman world. As late as 1896 a British traveler, D.G. Hogarth, describing his visit to Kuklia (“A Wandering Scholar in the Levant”), wrote that he found the peasants of the district still, once a year, solemnly anointing the corner stones of the ruined temple of Apbrodite! They recited charms, and made passes through perforated stones, to remove the barrenness of their women and increase the virility of their men. Moslems and Christians joined in the phallic rites, and both said that they did this “in honor of the maid of Bethlehem.”
And this survival of the phallic cult in its most naked form is typical of what happened all over Europe and the Near East. I have said that the most orgiastic of the phallic cults, that of Dionysus, came to Greece from Thrace, which was then a part of primitive, barbaric Europe. As late as the year 1906 (I cannot ascertain if it continues, but probably), the Greek Christians in the village round Viza, which is the old capital of Thrace (Bizye), had annually a kind of sacred drama or pantomime, in which the chief performer had a large wooden phallus. Girls represented “brides,” and he chased them, and captured and “married” one. He and the girl then danced “obscenely” in the streets and collected money; and the whole affair ended in a general orgy.
At the other end of Europe, in Scandinavia, the phallus similarly figured in popular plays until recent times. In Ireland the female figure pointing to or contemplating her pudenda, known to Celtic scholars as Sheila-na-gig, was often inserted in the keystone of the arch of the church-door — to avert the evil eye. There was one until recent years on a doorway of Cloyne Cathedral, in Cork. There is one exhibited in the Royal Irish Academy at Dublin.
There were similar figures on churches, in Britain (and in Spain). The Reformation has destroyed most of them, but Dr. Hartland mentions one in Herefordshire and another in Cornwall. There are phallic stones still surviving in many parts of England. A photograph of one in Dorsetshire lies before me: a four-foot high realistic model of the penis. In the same county, on Trendle Hill, is the figure, but in the turf, of the “Cerne Giant,” one hundred and eighty feet long: a nude giant with monstrous phallus and a club (a phallus). It is still cleaned every seven years. And every English village once had its “May-Pole,” which, whether its significance was locally remembered or not, seems unquestionably to have been originally phallic.
These, you may say, are remote things that may have escaped the vigilant eye of Rome (on the door of a cathedral!). Let us get nearer to Rome; and the nearer we go, the worse it is.
At Isernia, in the Abruzzi, there used to be an extremely popular festival every year on the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian; saints of very equivocal origin. People flocked from all parts, particularly barren women and people with venereal disease. The stalls in the streets were covered with phallic images in wax, and the women bought them and presented them in church. Men and women with venereal disease bared themselves, and were smeared by the priests with the holy oil of the saints. This went on, and had gone on from time immemorial, until the ring of Voltairean laughter compelled the Vatican to interfere in 1780.
At Alatri, much nearer Rome, there are phalli on the walls of the buildings (and were formerly in other parts of Italy). Now, on Easter Sunday, it is the fashion to turn out and stone the wicked emblems. But, since they still survive, one can easily gather how short a time it is since this custom began. Christian Italy kissed the phalli: semi-Rationalist Italy stones them. And, as Dr. Hartland observes, you will probably find women and girls in the crowd of laughing “zealots” wearing little gold phalli as amulets. In the ancient form of a closed fist with the thumb peeping out between the first and second fingers (the fico) this phallic emblem is still very common among the Catholic peasantry. In the Portici Museum there is an old altar vessel with a woman embracing a phallus engraved on it. At Trani a Priapean figure, known as “the holy member” figured until recently in the carnival.
You will note how these are all remnants of the medieval past which the church is now hiding. How extensive the cult was in the Middle Ages is best seen in France, where the Protestantism of the Huguenots has called our attention to such things.
When, in 1585, the Protestants took Embrun, they found in the sacristy an object, reddened at the end by libations of wine poured on it by barren women, which the priests had from time immemorial represented as the phallus of St. Foutin. The saint was said to have been the first Christian bishop of Lyons, and his cult spread over the entire region. Wax models of his celebrated organ were everywhere. Churches in the south of France had bunches of phalli hanging like candles from the roof. Sex cakes were sold and exchanged as freely as in ancient Greece. Barren women used to go out to the ancient (Neolithic) standing stones and rub against them. In fact, any upright stone would do; and in places the statues of the saints were found more convenient.
Who “St. Foutin” really was we can guess from the cult of “St. Guerlichon” (or Greluchon) in the Diocese of Bourges. The saint was an ancient ithyphallic statue so popular that the monks had to Christianize it and give it a legend. Women scraped a little off his phallus and drank it in water. In very many places in France and Belgium the phallic cult survived in this way. St. Ters in Belglum, St. Giles in Brittany, St. Rini of Anjou, and other famous saints of “the land of saints” grew out of old ithyphallic statues. That of St. Arnaud wore an apron, which was lifted only for barren women. At Orange, in the church of St. Eutropius, there was a wooden phallus covered with leather. It was greatly venerated and sought.
These are a few indications of the failure of the church to suppress phallism in practice. Rome officially stamped out the phallic cult; and Rome quietly winked at it everywhere. And this is only part of the immense story of the vagaries of the phallic sentiment under the Roman repression. Witchcraft was a Europe-wide result. The Flagellants of the Middle Ages — the crowds that went about scourging themselves from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries — were phallic. The dancing mania was an expression of the morbidly repressed sex-sentiment. The unnatural vice which spread over the whole clerical world when celibacy was enforced, the almost universal license of nuns and monks, and at the other end of the scale, the fantastic “ecstasies” of nuns like St. Catherine and St. Teresa and the fearful self-mutilation of holy monks, were all outcomes of the attempt to repress sex.
All that we can say is that the ancient phallic cults were dead because the ancient phallic deities were dead: because Christians now naturally looked to God and Mary to remove their barrenness — as a rule. But do not imagine that this led to a purification of the sex-morals of Europe.