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Cock Sucker or Holy Amulet. The Phallus in Different Cultures

 Cocker sucker, motherf*cker, dickhead, demon rod,   bollocks; in English we have so many ways to demean masculine life-giving energy. I wonder what that means for men and the connection to their penises. Does it cause shame, fear or disgust? Are western men encouraged to despise themselves and the dangle between their legs? Or are men so enamored with their members that language doesn’t affect them?

In other countries, there is an entirely different understanding of the power and purpose of the phallus. It is revered and celebrated with statues, parades, symbolism and pageantry. Penises are praised for fertility, power and to ward off evil. Does that mean that non-westerns have a better connection to their sex and power?

An example of shaming the male body has been noted by historians of the Middle Ages. Long before microscopes and modern psychology, the penis, and more specifically semen, was greatly misunderstood. At that time, the body on the whole was seen as a vile, putrid vessel that was full of blood, puss, urine, vomit, feces and worst of all, semen. Clergymen and politicians alike thought that carnal, demonic lust emanated from the penis and caused men to be crazed, out of control and out of step with the church. That is not good for a conservative, God-fearing society.

At that time, they questioned who was steering the ship, the penis, or the man, and that distressed men as to their value and purpose. It was impressed upon men that Mary was clean, virginal and holy by not having been touched by man and Adam’s damned seed has passed down from generation to generation polluting us all.

 However, in ancient Pompeii, the phallus was revered. Pictures depicting men and women engaging in adult pursuits along with Pan (half goat, half man) adorned the walls of most homes. In public buildings, images of phalluses were bejeweled with bells, scales and other ornamentation. Sex was something to be enjoyed, shared and happen frequently. The phallus protected against the Evil Eye, was symbol of good luck, and an omen of good fortune. It even served as a functional part of sculpture as the water spout of fountains. If you saw penises everywhere, you would probably think that they were a good thing. At that time, the phallus was a symbol of power, fertility, masculinity and of course, sex. Too bad Pompeii was lost for several centuries and along with it, all the platitudes that come with sexual liberation. Perhaps all that positivity around sexuality would have really helped in the formation of the western world and men’s current relationship to their cocks.

My first time in India was intense to put it mildly. Amongst all the cultural differences that stood out, the ubiquitous, beautifully adorned penises definitely made their mark (often with a giggle). I had never seen stiff cocks on display. In India, Hindus revere and glorify the lingam, the penis of Shiva who is the god of destruction and the protector from evil.

There are depictions of the lingams, in temples, in festivals and even little hand-held items used in meditation. Interestingly, it is the women who literally pray to the penis by tending the lingams in all-night ceremonies by pouring water, rosewater or milk over it and presenting offerings. I suspect that has a very profound influence on Hindu men and women. It is not shrouded in secrecy or seen as flaccid in many modern western art pieces. Does that mean that Indian men are perhaps more comfortable with their sexuality? Is this the reason why eunuchs and transvestites are considered good luck in Indian culture?

Japan has many festivals dedicated to all things phallic. I attended one at the end of cherry blossom season just outside Tokyo. It was bizarre and wonderful to witness. Free sake started flowing at 10 a.m. By two o’clock when the streets were packed with hoards of drunken people, Shinto priests started a long procession. A very large black penis and a bunch of smaller penises were pushed through the crowd as people got on their knees to bow. The priests then turned the penis 360 degrees to spread fertility in every direction, helping to ensure a good growing season.

After the procession, at a side shrine, women mounted a three-foot phallus if they wanted to conceive within the year. Additionally, men would rub golden balls to ensure their future fertility. Honestly, it was good to see people having such reverence and celebration around the golden rod (and ball sack). In Japan, the penis is a strong symbol of fertility and life force energy. That is something that’s worth celebrating. (It is sure better than the Super Bowl, but that is another topic).

Finally, ancient Egyptians celebrated Min, the god of fertility who was often depicted holding his erect penis with his left hand and a flail in his right. We have all heard of the bacchanalian sex parties of the Egyptians where Min was front and centre. Min was present in the coronation of all new kings. During the coronation, it was the duty of the king to ejaculate (with Min’s help) to ensure the Nile river would flood. Sex, fertility, agriculture and festival were all intimately connected. During that time, most people were partially clothes or unclothed. Thus, praising a god with an erect member is nothing out of the ordinary. I think by Judeo-Christian standards, this would cause quite a stir.

The last thing we need in our culture is yet another sausage festival on top of everything else that celebrates men. However, I would be very interested to see what it would look like if, in our culture the penis was praised rather than just seen as another tool for domination and porn. It feels to me that we have a lot of penis shame in our culture. Men are measured around the size of their member and their (in)ability to satisfy their lover. Perhaps if the phallus were more accepted and less cloistered, we would have a healthier relationship with sex and our own bodies. Sadly, we will never know. In the west, it is zipped up and covered for no one to see but your doctor, your lover and yourself. Such a shame.

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4 comments on “Cock Sucker or Holy Amulet. The Phallus in Different Cultures

  1. Ooh. I have questions: In cultures that celebrated the penis, did they also celebrate female fertility/sexuality? Have you noticed any correlations between cultures that celebrate the penis and other cultural traits? (ie. violence, destruction, peace, compassion, strong or subservient women)

    For instance, in Pompeii… small penises were actually revered, vs large ones. Large ones were seen as unevolved and animalistic. Men having sex with men was part of the culture, as was sexually dominating women and prostitutes.

    And a comment: Perhaps the saddest part of dongle shame, is that those ashamed are the ones enlightened enough to see what their brethren have been doing with their genitals. Caught somewhere between the guilt of an uptight religious nation, the shameful acts of other men and their own sexual urges, kinks and fantasies.

    We’ve come to a place where after thousands of years of men dominating women sexually, women’s sexuality has now become important. Women now expect men to be amazing lovers, often forgetting that part of their liberation is to be a willing and active participant. It takes 2 (or more) to tango. 😉

    • Oh Lola,

      You are my kind of girl. I am not familiar with specific female fertility festivals unless you count Cherry Blossom festival which is a celebration of spring and general fertility and the penis and vagina celebrated (where else) in Japan.

      You asked a loaded question with regards to the penis and cultural traits. Sadly most cultures have a history of violence and were headed by men. I don’t want to make any broad sweeping conclusions when it comes to this. It is dangerous and my hope is that we (both men and women) are evolving as animal to be less violent.

      I think you raise some interesting and accurate points regarding penis shame. It is the sentient ones who are carrying the burden and the asleep ones that are perpetrating some atrocious actions.

      i read an article in the NY Times recently around successful women wanting to submit their power and be taken in the bedroom. Perhaps that is another conversation.

      Thanks for your comments!
      Elana

      • I read that the woman’s sexual organs are located in her sacral chakra, making sex for her more emotional, while men’s organs fall in the root chakra, making sex more physical.

        Perhaps this tidbit can attest to the unevolved (or sleeping) man’s sexual aggression. Maybe evolved men are moving into sacral, as evolved women are moving toward the solar plexus (strength, will power, esteem).

      • That is a really interesting comment. (So sorry I didn’t see it until now). Thanks so much for that Lola, you have definitely given me something to think about.

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