Book: The Worship of the Generative Powers
Author: Thomas Wright

The Worship of the Generative Powers By Thomas Wright

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 108
Publication Date: 1865

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This work first appeared as the second half of the 1865 printing of A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus. Wright's extended essay on Phallic worship is distinguished by much better scholarship and writing than some of the other works of this genre. Along with the usual suspects (ancient and modern phallic objects, fertility rituals and so on) Wright devotes the longest section of this text to exploring what would become known as the 'Witch Cult'. Wright lays out a compelling case for the survival of ancient fertility rituals in the otherwise puzzling accounts of the Witches' Sabbath.

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RICHARD PAYNE KNIGHT has written with great learning on the origin and history of the worship of Priapus among the ancients. This worship, which was but a part of that of the generative powers, appears to have been the most ancient of the superstitions of the human race, has prevailed more or less among all known peoples before the introduction of Christianity, and, singularly enough, so deeply it seems to have been implanted in human nature, that even the promulgation of the Gospel did not abolish it, for it continued to exist, accepted and often encouraged by the mediæval clergy. The occasion of Payne Knight's work was the discovery that this worship continued to prevail in his time, in a very remarkable form, at Isernia in the kingdom of Naples, a full description of which will be found in his work.

The town of Isernia was destroyed, with a great portion of its inhabitants, in the terrible earthquake which so fearfully devastated the kingdom of Naples on the 26th of July, 1805, nineteen years after the appearance of the book alluded to. Perhaps with it perished the last trace of the worship of Priapus in this particular form; but Payne Knight was not acquainted with the fact that this superstition, in a variety of forms, prevailed throughout Southern and Western Europe largely during the Middle Ages, and that in some parts it is hardly extinct at the present day; and, as its effects were felt to a more considerable extent than people in general suppose in the most intimate and important relations of society, whatever we can do to throw light upon its mediæval existence, though not an agreeable subject, cannot but form an important and valuable contribution to the better knowledge of mediæval history. Many interesting facts relating to this subject were brought together in a volume published in Paris by Monsieur J. A. Dulaure, under the title, Des Divinités Génératices chez les Anciens et les Modernes, forming part of an Histoire Abrégée des differens Cultes, by the same author. This book, however, is still very imperfect; and it is the design of the following pages to give, with the most interesting of the facts already collected by Dulaure, other facts and a description and explanation of monuments, which tend to throw a greater and more general light on this curious subject.

The mediæval worship of the generative powers, represented by the generative organs, was derived from two distinct sources. In the first place, Rome invariably carried into the provinces she had conquered her own institutions and forms of worship, and established them permanently. In exploring the antiquities of these provinces, we are astonished at the abundant monuments of the worship of Priapus in all the shapes and with all the attributes and accompaniments, with which we are already so well acquainted in Rome and Italy. Among the remains of Roman civilization in Gaul, we find statues or statuettes of Priapus, altars dedicated to him, the gardens and fields entrusted to his care, and the phallus, or male member, figured in a variety of shapes as a protecting power against evil influences of various kinds. With this idea the well-known figure was sculptured on the walls of public buildings, placed in conspicuous places in the interior of the house, worn as an ornament by women, and suspended as an amulet to the necks of children. Erotic scenes of the most extravagant description covered vessels of metal, earthenware, and glass, intended, on doubt, for festivals and usages more or less connected with the worship of the principle of fecundity.

At Aix in Provence there was found, on or near the site of the ancient baths, to which it had no doubt some relation, an enormous phallus, encircled with garlands, sculptured in white marble. At Le Chatelet, in Champagne, on the site of a Roman town, a colossal phallus was also found. Similar objects in bronze, and of smaller dimensions, are so common, that explorations are seldom carried on upon a Roman site in which they are not found, and examples of such objects abound in the museums, public or private, of Roman antiquities. The phallic worship appears to have flourished especially at Nemausus, now represented by the city of Nîmes in the south of France, where the symbol of this worship appeared in sculpture on the walls of its amphitheatre and on other buildings, in forms some of which we can hardly help regarding as fanciful, or even playful. Some of the more remarkable of these are figured in our plates, II and III.

The first of these, Plate II, Fig 1 is the figure of a double phallus. It is sculptured on the lintel of one of the vomitories, or issues, of the second range of seats of the Roman amphitheatre, near the entrance-gate which looks to the south. The double and the triple phallus are very common among the small Roman bronzes, which appear to have served as amulets and for other similar purposes. In the latter, one phallus usually serves as the body, and is furnished with legs, generally those of the goat; a second occupies the usual place of this organ; and a third appears in that of a tail. On a pilaster of the amphitheatre of Nîmes we see a triple phallus of this description, Plate II, Fig 2 with goat's legs and feet. A small bell is suspended to the smaller phallus in front; and the larger organ which forms the body is furnished with wings. The picture is completed by the introduction of three birds, two of which are pecking the unveiled head of the principal phallus, while the third is holding down the tail with its foot.