The Penis In Mythology and Culture

The penis, the phallus and the divine

When the penis stands up, hard and solid, able to spurt, it becomes the phallus – the lingam – and assumes the creative form recorded in art and literature for generations. The erect penis, the phallus, is not only a source of bliss, it is a representative of the creative principle in mankind, and it has been worshipped as such in many religions. For example, on the wall of Egyptian temples you can see carvings of the Pharaohs with their erect penis sticking out before them, symbolizing the Pharaoh’s supposed power of procreation. 

Video- phallic symbolism in history

The cult of the phallus – that symbol of life and virility, of the sheer generative energy of man and mankind alike – first appeared about 8000 BC in the lands bordering what is now India. Indeed, this is the only region where the cult of the phallus (think of this as meaning the worship of the penis and its essentially male qualities) has survived practically unchanged to this day. 

The word lingam is synonymous with the penis in the Hindu and Tantric traditions. (Lingam means “sign” or “symbol”, a derivation thought to come from the most obvious sign of manhood – the presence of a penis on a new born baby.) The lingam or phallus is the source of life, the form in which the absolute being or creator (God), from whom the world comes forth, can be evoked. However, worshipping the phallus is not really about penis worship per se – it’s about worshipping the progenitor, the cosmic God behind the creative force and design of the Universe. 

Of course, the substance of the world is represented by the vagina, or Yoni, and it’s the coming together of design and substance (the phallus and yoni, respectively) which gives  form to matter and life. The two parts exist only because of their relationship to each other.

While the function of the phallus is to create life, it also provides pleasure, and pleasure is an image of the divine state. That, so the ancient Indian literature has it, is why when the divine manifests itself in its procreative aspect, it produces extreme pleasure as well: such superior pleasure as can be produced by the union of penis and vagina is a means of touching or reaching the divine state. Physical intimacy results in paternity and sexual pleasure; the former attaches man to the things of the earth, but sexual pleasure is a way of contacting divine reality, and leads to detachment and spiritual enlightenment.

Naturally enough, sperm, or more accurately semen, becomes something to be treasured in this belief system. All beings are created from an offering of sperm thrown into the fire of desire, and there are many representations of this around the world. In Egypt, the sun-god made all creation by masturbating; In India, the river of semen that issues from the head of the lingam represents the sacred River Ganges, supplier of life to the people; and semen fills the cup of the moon worn by Shiva on his forehead. 

Ritual offerings of sperm were part of agrarian rites in various civilizations. In some religions, such as Hinduism, there were substitutions for sperm itself, such as rice grains and rainwater. Needless to say, the Earth, being a feminine principle, receives these male offerings gladly. And even today, in some ceremonies of tribal peoples in Africa, young men dig holes in the ground and offer their semen to Mother Earth. 

But the subtlety of ascribing such principles to the phallus and the yoni is that they need each other to manifest the divine. Only when the vaginal yoni enfolds its softness around the erect hardness of the phallic penis can God manifest and the universe appear. Equally, the transmission of the genes of ancestral heritage to a new being which will then contain all the archetypes bequeathed to it is the most important religious act of a man’s life. Sexual intercourse is the process by which new beings are given life. The sexual union, therefore, represents a place between the immanent world of the divine and the material world of creation. 

The concept of God the father derives from the concept of man as the phallus bearer, he who pours semen into the waiting vagina and starts the process of the expression of life. 

The evidence of widespread worship of the phallus is all around us: from the Celtic standing stones of Europe, through more explicit statues formed into erect penises in ancient Greece and Rome, through Egyptian obelisks, via the raised phalluses decorated with a face that adorn temples and sacred sites of the Western World, to the explicit temple art of India, and in a hundred other forms, the worship of the penis testifies to the divine spirit in which masculinity has been held for centuries. The recognition of the divine aspect of male sexuality inherent in the phallus is essential to a healthy sexuality between men and women.

A cultural history of the penis

Early seventeenth century explorers of Africa shared one universal observation: the immense size of the black penis, although, perhaps impressed with the natural wonder of Africa, they all wildly exaggerated what they saw.

Sadly, they also used the “evidence” of their eyes to draw conclusions about the relative merits of the races – always to the disfavor of the black races.

As David M Friedman states in his book A Mind Of Its Own: A Cultural History Of The Penis, most racial thinkers based many of their important conclusions on the same criterion – the size of the African’s penis.

It was, as he says, “stared at, feared (and in some cases desired), weighed, interpreted via Scripture, meditated on by anthropologists and zoologists, preserved in specimens jars, and most of all, calibrated.”

And in nearly every instance, its size was deemed proof that the Negro races were inferior. 

(Such an example of blatant penis envy is hard to ignore. But funnily enough, its origins lie further back than recent white men’s explorations of Africa.

The Romans portray black men with huge penises in the bath houses at Pompeii. One theory is that these images were used to ward off feelings of enmity – the huge black penis was a source of amusement, and laughter dispelled negative emotions.)

A whole library of racist writings followed, ranging from misinterpretation of the Bible by Jewish scholars through nonsense written by slave-owning Englishmen to so-called scientific treatises “proving” that a large penis was associated with base sexual urges that were linked to animalistic origins; all of this farrago served to reinforce the stereotypical images held by most of the white world at the time of black men as having huge penises and being sexually obsessed. 

Friedman’s theory is that such racist nonsense found a hold on the white imagination because the Western imagination was still haunted by Roman and Greek legends filled with images of satyrs, centaurs, and other half-human, half-animal creatures endowed with immense sexual power. 

In any event, the projection of the fears and inhibitions of the Western sexual psyche onto the black races led to some extraordinary events. For example, almost every white woman accused of being a witch and consorting with the devil in the middle ages described his penis as black.

There were more pleasant erotic fantasies recorded in literature as well, but in general all writings of the time were split between condemnation of, and admiration for, the supposed massive member of the black races and its link to a highly sexualized state of mind.

One has to wonder at the state of mind of the writers, and how sexually repressed they must have been to come up with this material.

It was only in the 1970’s that serious work began on establishing the facts (though one still has to wonder why it mattered, and to whom).

But, nonetheless, the follow-up to the famous Kinsey report of 1948, published in 1979, concluded that the average size of a black man’s erection was 6.44 inches, while that of a white man was 6.15 inches.

There is of course some more nonsense here, since you can hardly measure the length of an erect penis to a hundredth of an inch. What’s worse is that this data was derived from measurements made by men of their own penises. Hardly reliable, I think.

What’s obvious here is that the legend of blacks being endowed with large members seems to be unsupported by any evidence that can be called remotely scientific.

What’s perhaps more interesting is that the results of an on-line survey by Richard Edwards in the 1990’s seem to suggest that even though there are no credible differences between whites and blacks in terms of erect penis size, nearly 80% of black men consider themselves well-satisfied with their penis size, while only a miserable 20% of white men do. 

Whether the black penis really is larger than the white one, says Friedman, is perhaps an unanswerable question. What is a fact, though, is that many people, both white and black, believe it to be so. One conclusion he draws is that white men fear that black “penis power” is greater than their own. 

And history seems to suggest that this is no new phenomenon.

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, leaders of the American medical profession were talking in semi-hysterical terms of the spread of sexual crimes by black men, and proposing solutions such as castration and penile amputation to deal with it. That this is no laughing matter, and certainly not a fit subject for frivolous discussion, is demonstrated by the accounts of mob-violence which Friedman records in his book. 

And even though we would like to think of ourselves as more civilized nowadays, Friedman draws attention to the ordeal of Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas, accused of sexually harassing a woman in the 1990s.

The parallel between the crude, retaliatory, sexual violence of the lynch mobs of the 1930s and the treatment of Judge Thomas at the hands of the Senate committee is too obvious to overlook.

Among other things, Professor Anita Hill accused Thomas of comparing his penis with that of the wildly-improbably endowed porn star Long Dong Silver, charges which Thomas denied in the strongest terms.

As Friedman observes, though, the point may be more subtle than whether Thomas was guilty (by the way, he was cleared by the senate committee). The whole affair was testimony to the enduring power of the image of the black penis as a cultural signifier in America, a penis so massive and powerful that the only possible response to it is one of fear. 

A rather interesting site about the penis in Ireland’s historical cultures.