There is one phallic rite which, from its nature and wide range, is of peculiar importance. I refer to circumcision. The origin of this custom has not yet, so far as I am aware, been satisfactorily explained. The idea that, under certain climatic conditions, circumcision is necessary for cleanliness and comfort, does not appear to be well-founded, as the custom is not universal even within the tropics. Nor is the reason given by Captain Richard Burton, in his "Notes connected with the Dahoman," for both circumcision and excision, perfectly satisfactory. The real origin of these customs has been forgotten by all peoples practising them--and, therefore, they have ceased to have their primitive significance. That circumcision, at least, had a superstitious origin may be inferred from the traditional history of the Jews. The old Hebrew writers, persistent in their idea that they were a peculiar people, chosen by God for a special purpose, asserted that this rite was instituted by Jehovah as a sign of the covenant between Him and Abraham. Although we cannot doubt that this rite was practised by the Egyptians and Phoenicians long before the birth of Abraham, 8 yet two points connected with the Hebrew tradition are noticeable. These are, the religious significance of the act of circumcision--it is the sign of a covenant between God and man--and its performance by the head of the family. These two things are, indeed, intimately connected; since, in the patriarchal age, the father was always the priest of the family and the offerer of the sacrifices. We have it, on the authority of the Veda, that this was the case also among the primitive Aryan people. 9 Abraham, therefore, as the father and priest of the fimily, performed the religious ceremony of circumcision on the males of his household.
Circumcision, in its inception, is a purely phallic rite, having for its aim the marking of that which from its associations is viewed with peculiar veneration, and it connects the two phases of this superstition which have for their object respectively the of generation and the agent. We are thus brought back to the consideration of the simplest form of phallic worship, that which has reference to the generative organs viewed as the mysterious instruments in the realization of that keen desire for children which distinguishes all primitive peoples. This feeling is so nearly universal that it is a matter of surprise to find the act by which it is expressed signalized as sinful. Yet such is the case, although the incidents in which the fact is embodied are so veiled in figure that their true meaning has long been forgotten. Clemens Alexandrinus tells us that "the Bacchanals hold their orgies in honor of the frenzied Bacchus, celebrating their sacred frenzy by the eating of raw flesh, and go through the distribution of the parts of butchered victims, crowned with snakes, shrieking out the name of that Eve, by whom error came into the world." He adds that "the symbol of the Bacchic orgies is a consecrated serpent," and that according to the strict interpretation of the Hebrew term, the name Hevia, aspirated, signifies a female serpent. 10 We have here a reference to the supposed fall of man from pristine "innocence," Eve and the serpent being very significantly introduced in close conjunction, and indeed becoming in some sense identified with each other. In fact the Arabic word for serpent, hayyal, may be said also to mean "life," and in this sense the legendary first human mother is called Eve or Chevvah, in Arabic Hawwa. In its relations, as an asserted fact, the question of the fall has an important bearing on the subject before us. Quite irrespective of the impossibility of accepting the Mosaic cosmogony as a divinely inspired account of the origin of the world and man--a cosmogony which, with those of all other Semitic peoples, has a purely "phallic" basis 11--the whole transaction said to have taken place in the Garden of Eden is fraught with difficulties on the received interpretation. The very idea on which it is founded--the placing by God, in the way of Eve, of a temptation which He knew she could not resist--is sufficient to throw discredit on the ordinary reading of the narrative. The effect, indeed, that was to follow the eating of the forbidden fruit, appears to an ordinary mind to furnish the most praiseworthy motive for not obeying the command to abstain. That "eating of the forbidden fruit" was simply a figurative mode of expressing the performance of the act necessary to the perpetuation of the human race--an act which in its origin was thought to be the source of all evil--is evident from the consequences which followed, and from the curse it entailed. 12 As to the curse inflicted Eve, it has always been a stumbling-block in the way of commentators. For, what connection is there between the eating of a fruit and sorrow in bringing forth children? The meaning is evident, however, when we know that conception and childbearing were the direct consequences of the act forbidden. How far this meaning was intended by the compiler of the Mosaic books we shall see further on.