Head, Heart and Balls
Reflections on being a manThe Penis Home Page
As vexing as the male organ clearly could be, it was not thought of as a demon rod by the pagan cultures that preceded Western Christendom. It was seen as many things, both noble and coarse. The penis was an icon of creativity; it was the link between the human and the sacred, an agent of bodily and spiritual ecstasy that hinted of communion with the eternal. Yet it was also a weapon against women, children, and weaker men. It was a force of nature, revered for its potency, yet just as amoral. It tied man to the cosmic energy that covered the fields each year with new herds and crops-and just as often destroyed them. The organ's "animal" urgency didn't trouble the ancients. Didn't the gods combine the human and the savage in their own amours? All these complexities and contradictions, the very unpredictability of life itself, were embodied by one body part above all in antiquity-the penis.
That's "penis," not "phallus". The latter is a perfectly apt word for the erect organ and all the symbolic meanings that attach to that state. Unfortunately, it has often been used to cloak or "clean up" the word "penis," something I believe to be unnecessary. Because of recent incidents involving Bill Clinton and John Bobbitt, to name but two, the word "penis" has appeared in more mainstream media outlets, and been said in conversations around more water coolers, than ever before. This book hopes to further that trend in a less prosecutorial context, sharing the conviction of another writer who investigated the cultural aspects of the penis more than four centuries ago.
"Whoever could make Man grow out of an over-nice dread of words," wrote Michel de Montaigne, "would do no great harm to this world."
From the beginnings of Western civilization the penis was more than a body part. It was an idea, a conceptual but flesh and blood gauge of man's place in the world. That men have a penis is a scientific fact; how they think about it, feel about it, and use it is not. Ideas of the penis vary from culture to culture and from one era to the next. It is possible to identify the key moments in Western history when a new idea of the penis addressed the larger mystery of man's relationship with it and changed forever the way that organ was conceived of and put to use.
Evidence of one of the oldest of those ideas was found in the ruins of the Sumerian city of Eridu, in the south of modern Iraq, where archaeologists unearthed cuneiform tablets more than five thousand years old. The penis symbolized both irrational nature and divine intelligence in this ancient civilization. It was a mystery, the unknowable god within, and this idea was expressed in core religious beliefs. Much of the, literature found in Eridu, composed in the world's first written language, celebrates the exploits of the god Enki. Typically drawn as a large bearded man wearing a cap with many horns, Enki was mankind's great benefactor, the "Determiner of Destinies" and "Organizer of the UniverseJ who, in the Gilgamesh epic, helps to save man from the flood sent by other gods.
Because Sumer was (and Iraq still is) a region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, two waterways prone to flooding, water was both a precious and, at times, dangerous substance in this "cradle of civilization." Without irrigation from those rivers, survival was impossible. Whoever gave life to those rivers was the very idea of life. Poetry from the third millennium B.C. identifies that creative force as Enki-more accurately, Enki's penis: After Father Enki lifted his eyes over the Euphrates, He stood up full of lust like an attacking bull, lifted his penis, ejaculated, filled the Euphrates with flowing water.
Six lines later Enki does the same for the Tigris: He lifted his penis, he brought the bridal gifts, Like a great wild bull he thrilled the heart of the Tigris, [And stood by] as it gave birth. In other poem cycles, Enki uses his penis to dig the world's first irrigation ditches, invents human sexual reproduction, and fathers the first human baby, after which he exults, "Let now my penis be praised!"
This ecstatic, life-creating idea of the penis was shared by the Egyptians, whose gods made similar boasts. In hieroglyphs written four thousand years ago inside the pyramids, one Egyptian deity and his penis provide an intriguing alternative to the current Big Bang theory of the universe's origin. "I created on my own every beingJ says the god Atum. "My fist became my spouse. I copulated with my hand." Atum's penis creates all life, divine and mortal, through this act of sacred masturbation, starting with the god of air and the goddess of moisture, who emerge whole from his semen. These gods mate and give birth to Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky. The mating of this divine couple is seen on many ancient papyri. These drawings show a naked Nut arching over the Earth god, who is on his back, his erect penis pointing skyward. For Egyptians this was not pornography; it was a religious map of their universe.
Once a year Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, paid homage to another perpetually erect god-Min, god of procreation. "Hail to thee, Min, that made his mother to bear! " said Pharaoh, in a prayer marking the belief that this god was so potent he fathered himself. After Pharaoh praised Min at his Theban temple for granting him sons, the god's statue was placed on a platform carried by shaved-headed priests in white linen. Min was always sculpted standing so as to make his huge penis all the more visible. In solemn procession behind this statue walked Pharaoh and his queen, followed by a white bull, a beast thought to be Min incarnate, and more holy men carrying lettuce, a plant whose milky sap, symbolic of Min's semen, was deemed sacred.
The sacredness of the penis was the central idea in Egypt's most important myth, a story that established the Egyptian belief in the Afterlife and the divine bloodline of Pharaoh. This is the myth of Osiris and Isis, the brother and sister who ruled as king and queen of Egypt in the first age of the world. Osiris handed down a code of laws and taught his people to cultivate grain. Isis identified the medicinal properties of herbs and invented the loom. They were loved by their subjects but hated by their jealous brother Seth, who tricked Osiris into lying inside a chest, which Seth's henchmen then threw into the Nile. Isis found Osiris's corpse, but Seth recaptured it, tearing the body into fourteen pieces and scattering them throughout the kingdom. After a long search Isis located all but the king's penis.
In one version of the myth, the queen took what she found and fashioned it into a whole, making the first mummy. Then she made herself into a hawk and hovered over the crotch of her dead mate, using the flapping of her wings to bring forth a new penis. Isis lowered herself onto this magically reconstituted organ and received Osiris's seed. The child of this union was Horus, from whom all Pharaohs claimed descent. To avenge his father's death, Horus eventually killed and emasculated Osiris's murderer, Seth.
According to Plutarch, the Greek who visited Egypt near the turn of the first century, a statue in Koptos showed Horus holding up his trophy-Seth's penis-'n his hand. Later another resurrection story would be preached in nearby Judea, then throughout the entire Mediterranean basin, about a man born of God and a virgin who lived a life of chastity that offered a direct path to personal salvation, if one believed the Son of God had risen from the dead. In Egypt a sacred myth preached the salvation of an entire culture through the death and rebirth of a god's penis.
That magic organ, so potent it defeated death, dominated the Egyptian Afterlife. The remembered Osiris flaunted his virility in the Underworld, where he ruled as king: "I am Osiris ... stiff of penis .... I am mightier than the Lord of Terror; I copulate and I have power over myriads," he says in The Egyptian Book of the Dead. By contrast, a spell against a serpent in the Book Says, "You shall not become erect. You shall not copulate." The link between impotence and defeat had grim real-life consequences for Egypt's enemies on the battlefield. Proof was inscribed in the walls of Karnak, circa 1200 B.C., by Pharaoh Merneptah, after a triumph over the Libyans:
Penises of Libyan generals: 6
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