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Priapus Worship

Antiquity had made Priapus a god, the middle ages raised him into a saint, and that under several names.

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[paragraph continues] In the south of France, Provence, Languedoc, and the Lyonnais, he was worshipped under the title of St. Foutin. 41 This name is said to be a mere corruption of Fotinus or Photinus, the first bishop of Lyons, to whom, perhaps through giving a vulgar interpretation to the name, people had transferred the distinguishing attribute of Priapus. This was a large phallus of wood, which was an object of reverence to the women, especially to those who were barren, who scraped the wooden member, and, having steeped the scrapings in water, they drank the latter as a remedy against their barrenness, or administered it to their husbands in the belief that it would make them vigorous. The worship of this saint, as it was practiced in various places in France at the commencement of the seventeenth century, is described in that singular book, the Confession de Sancy42 We there learn that at Varailles in Provence, waxen images of the members of both sexes were offered to St. Foutin, and suspended to the ceiling of his chapel, and the writer remarks that, as the ceiling was covered with them, when the wind blew them about, it

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produced an effect which was calculated to disturb very much the devotions of the worshippers. We hardly need remark that this is just the same kind of worship which existed at Isernia, in the kingdom of Naples, where it was presented in the same shape. At Embrun, in the department of the Upper Alps, the phallus of St. Foutin was worshipped in a different form; the women poured a libation of wine upon the head of the phallus, which was collected in a vessel, in which it was left till it became sour; it was then called the "sainte vinaigre," and the women employed it for a purpose which is only obscurely hinted at. When the Protestants took Embrun in 1585, they found this phallus laid up carefully among the relics in the principal church, its head red with the wine which had been poured upon it. A much larger phallus of wood, covered with leather, was an object of worship in the church of St. Eutropius at Orange, but it was seized by the Protestants and burnt publicly in 1562. St. Foutin was similarly an object of worship at Porigny, at Cives in the diocese of Viviers, at Vendre in the Bourbonnais, at Auxerre, at Puy-en-Velay, in the convent of Girouet near Sampigny, and in other places. At a distance of about four leagues from Clermont in Auvergne, there is (or was) an isolated rock, which presents the form of an immense phallus, and which is popularly called

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[paragraph continues] St. Foutin. Similar phallic saints were worshipped under the names of St. Guerlichon, or Greluchon, at Bourg-Dieu in the diocese of Bourges, of St. Gilles in the Cotentin in Britany, of St. Rene in Anjou, of St. Regnaud in Burgundy, of St. Arnaud, and above all of St. Guignolé near Brest and at the village of La Chatelette in Berri. Many of these were still in existence and their worship in full practice in the last century; in some of them, the wooden phallus is described as being much worn down by the continual process of scraping, while in others the loss sustained by scraping was always restored by a miracle. This miracle, however, was a very clumsy one, for the phallus consisted of a long staff of wood passed through a hole in the middle of the body, and as the phallic end in front became shortened, a blow of a mallet from behind thrust it forward, so that it was restored to its original length.

It appears that it was also the practice to worship these saints in another manner, which also was derived from the forms of the worship of Priapus among the ancients, with whom it was the custom, in the nuptial ceremonies, for the bride to offer up her virginity to Priapus, and this was done by placing her sexual parts against the end of the phallus, and sometimes introducing the latter, and even completing the sacrifice. This ceremony is represented in a

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bas-relief in marble, an engraving of which is given in the Musée Secret of the antiquities of Herculaneum and Pompeii; its object was to conciliate the favour of the god, and to avert sterility. It is described by the early Christian writers, such as Lactantius and Arnobius, as a very common practice among the Romans; and it still prevails to a great extent over most part of the East, from India to Japan and the islands of the Pacific. In a public square in Batavia, there is a cannon taken from the natives and placed there as a trophy by the Dutch government. It presents the peculiarity that the touch-hole is made on a phallic hand, the thumb placed in the position which is called the "fig," and which we shall have to describe a little further on. It is always the same idea of reverence to the fertilizing powers of nature, of which the garland or the bunch of flowers was an appropriate emblem. There are traces of the existence of this practice in the middle ages. In the case of some of the priapic saints mentioned above, women sought a remedy for barrenness by kissing the end of the phallus; sometimes they appear to have placed a part of their body naked against the image of the saint, or to have sat upon it. This latter trait was perhaps too bold an adoption of the indecencies of pagan worship to last long, or to be practiced openly; but it appears to have been more innocently represented by lying

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upon the body of the saint, or sitting upon a stone, understood to represent him without the presence of the energetic member. In a corner in the church of the village of St. Fiacre, near Mouceaux in France, there is a stone called the chair of St. Fiacre, which confers fecundity upon women who sit upon it; but it is necessary that nothing should intervene between their bare skin and the stone. In the church of Orcival in Auvergne, there was a pillar which barren women kissed for the same purpose, and which had perhaps replaced some less equivocal object. 43 Traditions, at least, of similar practices were connected with St. Foutin, for it appears to have been the custom for girls on the point of marriage to offer their last maiden robe to that saint. This superstition prevailed to such an extent that it became proverbial. A story is told of a young bride who, on the wedding night, sought to deceive her husband on the question of her previous chastity, although, as the writer expresses it, "she had long ago deposited the robe of her virginity on the altar of St. Foutin." From this form of superstition is said to have arisen a vice which is understood to prevail especially in

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nunneries--the use by women of artificial phalli, which appears in its origin to have been a religious ceremony. It certainly existed at a very remote period, for it is distinctly alluded to in the Scriptures, 44 where it is evidently considered as a part of pagan worship. It is found at an early period of the middle ages, described in the Ecclesiastical Penitentials, with its appropriate amount of penitence. One of these penitential canons of the eighth century speaks of "a woman who, by herself or with the help of another woman, commits uncleanness," for which she was to do penance for three years, one on bread and water; and if this uncleanness was committed with a nun, the penance was increased to seven years, two only on bread and water. Another Penitential of an early date provides for the case in which both the women who participated in this act should be nuns; and Burchardus, bishop of Worms, one of the most celebrated authorities on such subjects, describes the instrument and use of it in greater detail. The practice had evidently lost its religious character and degenerated into a mere indulgence of the passions.

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Antwerp has been described as the Lampsacus of Belgium, and Priapus was, down to a comparatively modern period, its patron saint, under the name of Ters, a word the deriviation of which appears to be unknown, but which was identical in meaning with the Greek phallus and the Latin fascinum. John Goropius Becan, who published a learned treatise on the antiquities of Antwerp in the middle of the sixteenth century, informs us how much this Ters was reverenced in his time by the Antwerpians, especially by the women, who invoked it on every occasion when they were taken by surprise or sudden fear. 45 He states that "if they let fall by accident a vessel of earthenware, or stumbled, or if any unexpected accident caused them vexation, even the most respectable women called aloud for the protection of Priapus under this obscene name." Goropius Becanus adds that there was in his time, over the door of a house adjoining the prison, a statue which had been furnished with a large phallus, then worn away or broken off. Among other writers who mention this statue is Abraham Golnitz, who published an account of his travels in France and Belgium, in 1631 46 and he informs us that it was a carving in stone, about a foot

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high, with its arms raised up, and its legs spread out, and that the phallus had been entirely worn out by the women, who had been in the habit of scraping it and making a potion of the dust which they drank as a preservative against barrenness. Golnitz further tells us that a figure of Priapus was placed over the entrance gate to the enclosure of the temple of St. Walburgis at Antwerp, which some antiquaries imagined to have been built on the site of a temple dedicated to that deity. It appears from these writers that, at certain times, the women of Antwerp decorated the phalli of these figures with garlands.


50:41 Our material for the account of these phallic saints is taken mostly from the work of M. Dulaure.

50:42 La Confession de Sancy forms the fifth volume of the Journal d'Henri III, by Pierre de L'Estoile, ed. Duchat. See pp. 383, 391, of that volume.

54:43 Dulaure relates that one day a villager's wife entering this church, and finding only a burly canon in it, asked him earnestly, "Where is the pillar which makes women fruitful?" "I," said the canon, "I am the pillar."

57:44 Ezekiel, XVI, 17. Within a few years there has been a considerable manufacture of these objects in Paris, and it was understood that they were chiefly exported to Italy, where they were sold in the nunneries.

58:45 Johannis Goropii Becani Origines Antwerpianae, 1569, lib. i, pp. 26, 101.

58:46 Golnitzii Itinerarium Belgico-Gallicum, p. 52.

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