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Phallic Festivals

Besides the invocations addressed principally to Priapus, or to the generative powers, the ancients had established great festivals in their honour, which were remarkable for their licentious gaiety, and in which the image of the phallus was carried openly and in triumph. These festivities were especially celebrated among the rural population, and they were held chiefly during the summer months. The preparatory labours of the agriculturist were over,

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and people had leisure to welcome with joyfulness the activity of nature's reproductive powers, which was in due time to bring their fruits. Among the most celebrated of these festivals were the Liberalia, which were held on the 17th of March. A monstrous phallus was carried in procession in a car, and its worshippers indulged loudly and openly in obscene songs, conversation, and attitudes, and when it halted, the most respectable of the matrons ceremoniously crowned the head of the phallus with a garland. The Bacchanalia, representing the Dionysia of the Greeks, were celebrated in the latter part of October, when the harvest was completed, and were attended with much the same ceremonies as the Liberalia. The phallus was similarly carried in procession, and crowned, and, as in the Liberalia, the festivities being carried on into the night, as the celebrators became heated with wine, they degenerated into the extreme of licentiousness, in which people indulged without a blush in the most infamous vices. The festival of Venus was celebrated towards the beginning of April, and in it the phallus was again carried in its car, and led in procession by the Roman ladies to the temple of Venus outside the Colline gate, and there presented by them to the sexual parts of the goddess. This part of the scene is represented in a well-known intaglio, which has

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been published in several works on antiquities. At the close of the month last mentioned came the Floralia, which, if possible, excelled all the others in licence. Ausonius, in whose time (the latter half of the fourth century) the Floralia were still in full force, speaks of their lasciviousness-

Nee non lascivi Floralia læta theatri,
  Quæ spectare volunt qui voluisse negant.
                Ausonii Eclog. de Feriis Romanis.

The loose women of the town and its neighbourhood, called together by the sounding of horns, mixed with the multitude in perfect nakedness, and excited their passions with obscene motions and language, until the festival ended in a scene of mad revelry, in which all restraint was laid aside. Juvenal describes a Roman dame of very depraved manners as-

. . . . Dignissima prorsus
Florali matrona tuba.
                       Juvenalis Sat. vi, I. 249.

These scenes of unbounded licence and depravity, deeply rooted in people's minds by long established customs, caused so little public scandal, that it is related of Cato the younger that, when he was present at the celebration of the Floralia, instead of showing any disapproval of them, he retired, that his well-known gravity might be no restraint upon them, because the multitude manifested some hesitation in

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stripping the women naked in the presence of a man so celebrated for his modesty. The festivals more specially dedicated to Priapus, the Priapeia, were attended with similar ceremonies and similarly licentious orgies. Their forms and characteristics are better known, because they are so frequently represented to us as the subjects of works of Roman art. The Romans had other festivals of similar character, but of less importance, some of which were of a more private character, and some were celebrated in strict privacy. Such were the rites of the Bona Dea, established among the Roman matrons in the time of the republic, the disorders of which are described in such glowing language by the satirist Juvenal, in his enumeration of the vices of the Roman women:--

Nota Bonæ secreta Deæ, quum tibia lumbos
Incitat, et cornu pariter vinoque feruntur
Attonitæ, crinemque rotant, ululantque Priapi
Mænades. O quantus tunc illis mentibus ardor
Concubitus! quæ vox saltante libidine! quantus
Ille meri veteris per crura madentia torrens!
Lenonum ancillas posita Saufeia corona
Provocat, et tollit pendentis præmia coxæ.
Ipsa Medullinæ fluctum crissantis adorat.
Palmam inter dominas virtus natalibus æquat.
Nil ibi per ludum simulabitur: omnia fient
Ad verum, quibus incendi jam frigidus ævo
Laomedontiades et Nestoris hernia possit.
Tunc prurigo moræ impatiens, tunc femina simplex,
Et toto pariter repetitus clamor ab antro:
Jam fas est: admitte viros!--Juvenalis Sat. vi, l. 314.


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Among the Teutonic, as well as among most other peoples, similar festivals appear to have been celebrated during the summer months; and, as they arose out of the same feelings, they no doubt presented the same general forms. The principal popular festivals of the summer during the middle ages occurred in the months of April, May, and June, and comprised Easter, May-day, and the feast of the summer solstice. All these appear to have been originally accompanied with the same phallic worship which formed the principal characteristic of the great Roman festivals; and, in fact, these are exactly those popular institutions and traits of popular manners which were most likely to outlive, also without any material change, the overthrow of the Roman empire by the barbarians. Although, at the time when we become intimately acquainted with these festivals, most of the prominent marks of their phallic character had been abandoned and forgotten, yet we meet during the interval with scattered indications which leave no room to doubt of their former existence. It will be interesting to examine into some of these points, and to show the influence they exerted on mediæval society.

The first of the three great festivals just mentioned was purely Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic; but it appears in the first place to have been identified with the

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[paragraph continues] Roman Liberalia, and it was further transformed by the Catholic church into one of the great Christian religious feasts. In the primitive Teutonic mythology there was a female deity named, in Old German, Ostara, and, in Anglo-Saxon, Eastre, or Eostre, but all we know of her is the simple statement of our father of history, Bede, that her festival was celebrated by the ancient Saxons in the month of April, from which circumstance, that month was named by the Anglo-Saxons Easter-monath, or Eoster-monath, and that the name of the goddess had been subsequently given to the Paschal time, with which it was identical. The name of this goddess was given to the same month by the old Germans and by the Franks, so that she must have been one of the most highly honoured of the Teutonic deities, and her festival must have been a very important one, and deeply implanted in the popular feelings, or the church would not have sought to identify it with one of the greatest Christian festivals of the year. It is understood that the Romans considered this month as dedicated to Venus, no doubt because it was that in which the productive power of nature began to be visibly developed. When the Pagan festival was adopted by the church, it became a moveable feast instead of being fixed to the month of April. Among other objects offered to the goddess at this time were

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cakes, made no doubt of fine flour, but of their form we are ignorant. The Christians, when they seized upon the Easter festival, gave them the form of a bun, which, indeed, was at that time the ordinary form of bread; and to protect themselves, and those who eat them, from any enchantment, or other evil influences which might arise from their former heathen character, they marked them with the Christian symbol--the cross. Hence were derived the cakes we still eat at Easter under the name of hot-cross-buns, and the superstitious feelings attached to them, for multitudes of people still believe that if they failed to eat a hot-cross-bun on Good-Friday they would be unlucky all the rest of the year. But there is some reason for believing that, at least in some parts, the Easter-cakes had originally a different form--that of the phallus. Such at least appears to have been the case in France, where the custom still exists. In Saintonge, in the neighbourhood of La Rochelle, small cakes, baked in the form of a phallus, are made as offerings at Easter, and are carried and presented from house to house; and we have been informed that similar practices exist in some other places. When Dulaure wrote, the festival of Palm Sunday, in the town of Saintes, was called the fête des pinnes, pinne being a popular and vulgar word for the membrum virile. At this fête the women

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and children carried in the procession, at the end of their palm branches, a phallus made of bread, which they called undisguisedly a pinne, and which, having been blest by the priest, the women carefully preserved during the following year as an amulet. A similar practice existed at St. Jean-d'Angély, where small cakes, made in the form of the phallus, and named fateux, were carried in the procession of the Fête-Dieu, or Corpus Christi. 63 Shortly before the time when Dulaure wrote, this practice was suppressed by a new sous-préfet, M. Maillard. The custom of making cakes in the form of the sexual members, male and female, dates from a remote antiquity and was common among the Romans. Martial made a phallus of bread (Priapus siligineus) the subject of an epigram of two lines:--

Si vis esse satur, nostrum potes esse priapum:
   Ipse licet rodas inguina, purus eris.
                              Martial, lib. xiv, ep. 69.

The same writer speaks of the image of a female organ made of the same material in another of his epigrams, to explain which, it is only necessary to state that these images were composed of the finest wheaten flour (siligo):--

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Pauper amicitiæ cum sis, Lupe, non es amicæ;
   Et queritur de te mentula sola nihil.
Illa siligineis pinguescit adultera cunnis;
   Convivam pascit nigra farina tuum.
                               Martial, lib. ix, ep. 3.

This custom appears to have been preserved from the Romans through the middle ages, and may be traced distinctly as far back as the fourteenth or fifteenth century. We are informed that in some of the earlier inedited French books on cookery, receipts are given for making cakes in these obscene forms, which are named without any concealment; and the writer on this subject, who wrote in the sixteenth century, Johannes Bruerinus Campegius, describing the different forms in which cakes were then made, enumerates those of the secret members of both sexes, a proof, he says of "the degeneracy of manners, when Christians themselves can delight in obscenities and immodest things even among their articles of food." He adds that some of these were commonly spoken of by a gross name, des cons sucrés. When Dulaure wrote, that is just forty years ago, cakes of these forms continued to be made in various parts of France, and he informs us that those representing the male organ were made in the Lower Limousin, and especially at Brives, while similar images of the female organ were made at Clermont

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in Auvergne, and in other places. They were popularly called miches64

There is another custom attached to Easter, which has probably some relation to the worship of which we are treating, and which seems once to have prevailed throughout England, though we believe it is now confined to Shropshire and Cheshire. In the former county it is called heaving, in the latter lifting. On Easter Monday the men go about with chairs, seize the women they meet, and, placing them in the chairs, raise them up, turn them round two or three times, and then claim the right of kissing them. On Easter Tuesday, the same thing is done by the women to the men. This, of course, is only practiced now among the lower classes, except sometimes as a frolic among intimate friends. The chair appears to have been a comparatively modern addition, since such articles have become more abundant. In the last century four or five of the one sex took the victim of the other sex by the arms and legs, and lifted her or him in that manner, and the operation was attended, at all events on the part of the men, with much indecency. The women usually expect a small contribution of money from the men they have lifted. More anciently, in the time of Durandus, that is, in

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the thirteenth century, a still more singular custom prevailed on these two days. He tells us that in many countries, on the Easter Monday, it was the rule for the wives to beat their husbands, and that on the Tuesday the husbands beat their wives. Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, tells us that in the city of Durham, in his time, it was the custom for the men, on the one day, to take off the women's shoes, which the latter were obliged to purchase back, and that on the other day the women did the same to the men.


77:62 Plate XIII, Fig. 1. From two black-letter ballads in the British Museum, one entitled, "A warning for all Lewd Livers," the other, "A strange and true News from Westmoreland."

88:63 Dulaure, Histoire Abrégée des Different Cultes, vol. ii, p. 285. Second Edition. It was printed in 1825.

90:64 Dulaure, vol. ii, pp. 255-257.

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