phallic worship

phallic worship

phallic worship, worship of the reproductive powers of nature as symbolized by the male generative organ. Phallic symbols have been found by archaeological expeditions all over the world, and they are usually interpreted as an expression of the human desire for regeneration. Phallic worship in ancient Greece centered around Priapus (the son of Aphrodite) and the Orphic and Dionysiac cults. In Rome, the most important form of phallic worship was that of the cult of Cybele and Attis; prominent during the empire, this cult was notorious for its festive excesses and its yearly "Day of Blood," during which the frenzied participants wounded themselves with knives; self-inflicted castration, a prerequisite for admittance into the priest caste of this phallic cult, took place during the festival. In India, the deity Shiva was often represented by and worshiped as a phallic symbol called the lingam. Phallic worship has also been practiced among the Egyptians in the worship of Osiris; among the Japanese, who incorporated it into Shinto; and among the Native Americans, such as the Mandan, who had a phallic buffalo dance. See also fertility rites.

See C. G. Berger, Our Phallic Heritage (1966); T. Vanggaard, Phallos (1972).

Phallic saints were actual saints or local deities who were invoked for fertility. More than vulgar representations of the phallus, phallic saints were benevolent symbols of prolificacy and reproductive fruitfulness, and objects of reverence and especial worship among barren women and young girls. Many were legitimate saints who acquired their priapic attributes through the process of folk-etymology. Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) reported that, among the wax representations of body parts then presented as offerings to Cosmas and Damian at Isernia, near Naples, on their feast day, those of the penis were the most common.

Some examples include:


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