Citi College of San Francisco
HUMAN SEXUALITY – IDST 17 – 2009
Assigned instructors: John Perryman and Carol Badran
Student: Jose Joacir dos Santos
The worship of the phallus and the male sexuality
I decided to focus this work only in two cultures, Greek and Japanese, representing West and East, because both of them have a rich history of worship of the phallus into male sexuality. It is a vast subject, impossible to cover all aspects of it, and it is being presented in a simple way to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. The worship of the phallus and the male sexuality in those two cultures has a strong connection with the sacred. Just for illustration, I added some pictures collected on the internet showing sacred places and festivals.
Goal and Objectives
Coming from a country (Brazil) where there is a male predominance at the society but at the same time it is flexible and diverse, I choose this topic because it has a strong impact in the American way of life. Even though the United States well known as the most open and democratic society, in terms of male sexuality and civil rights, there is a lot o work to be done. My intention is to show that the worship of the phallus and male sexuality is not a new wave, a new behavior. It is part of the celebration of the human being. It was a great surprise to see that the worship of the phallus and the relationship between two persons from the same sex has been always present in the human history but not segregated like it is today, all over the world. In the Greek society as well as in the Japanese, the relationship between two persons is even related to God’s connections.
The worship of the phallus and the male sexuality
Human sexuality can be seen from a variety of point of view, according to the cultural perspective. Western civilization refers to the Greek-Roman root, saturated with the Roman Catholic versus Jewish ideology, where God plays a huge role in punishment related to sexuality. From the East side of the world, human sexuality is connected with temples, health practices and exercises for long life. From East to West, the phallus has been worshipped in many different ways, celebrating it as if it is a divine part of the human being, with a strong connection with the male sexuality.
Greek Mythology presents sexology as a relationship between men, its nature and the connection with gods or demons. According to Eva C. Keuls, in The Reign of the Phallus, page 13, “until the end of the Periclean age, 430 B.C, a pronounced phallicism prevailed in classical Athens, which we will take to mean a combination of male supremacy and the cult of power and violence”, as a element of the ordinary life of its citizens, in all levels and classes, in a context full of politics, rituals, drama, festivities and dark sides like punishment of slaves with rape and sex as well. Western psychology adopted Greek Mythology as an umbrella for its theory and Freud elaborated an entire system of reference, having the penis as a center of judgments for the human behavior. Instead of happiness and pleasure, the phallus became an object of fear, repression, phobias and discrimination. In Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, page 377, Freud refers to homosexuals as “perverse”, “class of perverts”, “only can be compared to the grotesque monsters”, “many inferior and useless individuals”.
Eva C. Keuls, in The Reign of the Phallus, analyzes a collection of vases (1), believed to be from the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., where anonymous artists painted cultural expressions of sexual relationship linking the worship of the phallus to fertility. The collection includes “double phalluses, phalluses with eyes”, “phallus plants”, “phallus-shaped animals and creatures with part of their anatomy transformed into phalluses”, in metal or porcelain. At the same period of time, the high society enjoys the freedom of sexuality, where adult and young male enjoy each other in sexual relationships, as well as male having sex with female and animals. The penis is the center of all expressions. Some of the paintings show a soft way, almost beauty, maybe connecting themselves with their Gods. Louis Crompton, in “Homosexuality & Civilization”, page 10, says: “…there were the Greeks’ passion for athletics, their acceptance of male nudity, and their cult of male beauty. From early times the Greeks had exalted athletics, first as useful training for the warrior, then for their own sake”.
Similar view, without guilt, is presented by Ihara Saikaku (1642-930), in “The Great Mirror of Male Love”, published in Japan in 1687. The book talks about male sexuality in a poetic and humorous way, as does the majority of the Japanese media when the subject is sexuality, especially male homosexuality. Until a few years ago, there was no word in Japanese for homosexual, because it was part of the ordinary life, even among the military, Samurai society, priests and monks from the esoteric Buddhists religions.
The most expressive festivities and worship of the penis in Asia happen in Japan, where the culture is completely devoted to its own root, related to the acknowledgment of the indigenous Japanese people about the Life Force of the Universe. With the advent of the Buddhism practices, imported from China by the priests and monks, as well as the traditional Chinese medicine, especially the Yin and Yang theory, the “idealizing romantic relations between men and boys in Samurai and merchant class circles”(2) was a way of life, not an exception or an underground movement reserved for a small group of people.
According to Paul Gordon Schalaw, in Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender, edited by José Ignacio Cabezon, “male homosexual love was introduced to Japan from China in the ninth century by Kukai (774-835)”, founder of the True Word (Shingon) sect of esoteric Buddhism. Gary P. Leupp, author of “Male Colors”, says: Kukai Daishi “did not preach the profound pleasures of this love (gay) outside the monasteries because he feared the extinction of humankind”. “Although we know next to nothing about the popular view of nanshoku (male to male sex relationship), the historical record left has inquired not why a given man had taken male lovers but rather why he had not done so”.
About the Japanese lifestyle, Leupp says: “Prostitution may be the world’s oldest profession, but In Japan wide-scale, well-organized, licensed prostitution dates only from Tomotomi Hideyoshi’s rule (1582-1598)”, associated with kabuki drama, teahouses and other places, in cities with a huge traffic of vessels (army), commerce and temples where sex was not forbidden (specially Shithoism and Tendai religions). “The demographics of these towns may have encouraged males to turn to one another for sexual pleasure. Samurai status was inherited from fathers by sons and daughters alike, but because the great vast legions of male construction and transport workers, urban sex ratios was often very high”. “Samurai and commoner men alike lived in circumstances particularly lacking in opportunities for female companionship”.
It is not easy for a westerner to understand the eastern point of view about male sexuality, without trying to justify a behavior that is considered “silly” in the West. But, the Japanese society has strong roots. For them, the Life Force is everywhere and they call it Kami. It is not a god or a goddess. It is both at the same time. It is in the air, in the Sun, in the moon, in the heart of every human being. Also, when it comes to the gods of Buddhism, there is one that can be men or woman and its manifestation occurs according to the needs of the devotee. We are talking about Cannon, the god of mercy and compassion, well known all over Asia as Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. She or He has different names and the character is played in movies and theater, all over Asia, especially in Japan, China and Korea. In most of the movies in China, Kuan Yin is played by an actor, dressed as The Goddess of Mercy, the one who “hears the cry of the world”. In Tibet, Kuan Yin is Avalokitasvara, a male entity with angel’s face.
There is a movie called “The King of the Masks”, directed by Wu Tian Ming, based in folklore about Kuan Yin. The King is old men, retired from the theater, which makes his living playing with masks on the streets. A very popular and famous actor, who replaced the old men in the theater, comes down to town in a sort of bier, playing Kuan Yin. He sees the old men completely neglected by the people because the fireworks and the excitement of the streets seem to be more interesting than the old tricks of the King of the Masks. The yang player has a strong admiration for the old men. So, he gives money to the old men, reminding him that he has no son to carry on his family tradition. Days later, he was advised by a Kuan Yin priest, from a nearby temple, to adopt a boy.
The old man goes to other villages looking for a boy to adopt. There are plenty of girls available for sale but no boys. When he decides to go home, a boy’s voice calls him “grandpa”. He looks back and sees a boy. He negotiates the price and goes happy with the boy. Soon he discovers that the boy is “inferior goods: a girl”. He gets furious and asks the girl to call him “boss”, instead of “grandpa”. The little girl asks the boss: what do boys have that I don’t? “Just a little teapot spout”. “Does the goddess have a teapot spout? (The old men keep a statue of the Goddess Kuan Yin in the boot) “What Goddess? “. Fetching the statue, the little girl says: “Look, she’s got breasts. Why do you worship her?” The movie goes on and the audience has a lot of reasons to cry about the struggle of the little girl to be accepted and have a family carrying on the message of compassion from the Goddess of Mercy. China has an old issue about boys and girls. “Boys give luck”.
Every March 15th, there is a huge celebration in Japan for the phallus, called Houmen Matsuri — the harvest festival. The ceremonies take place near the “penis shrine”. The festival also includes the celebration for fertility and prosperity. The streets nearby are filled with vendors, selling from food to phallus-shaped icons and candy. The entire family comes to the place. All the men, aging from 23 to 43 years old, get almost naked to carry on the ceremony. Huge wooden phalluses are taken in wooden framework with flowers, incense, music and applause. Shinto traditions say that, “sacred naked men”, “absorb all bad luck and evil deeds from the men who touch him”. “This ritual is said to commemorate the end of a plague during the ancient time, where it is believed the Sacred Naked Man would take on the illness from the community and heal it”. It is said the Sacred Naked Men festival (aka shin-otoko) has taken place since the year 767 B.C. The Japanese society has incorporated it as a tourist attraction.
An anonymous participant says: “It is a great honor to be chosen as the Sacred Naked Man. If chosen, one must undergo elaborate purification rites by shaving off all the hair on his body. One, then, sets off through the streets, besieged by up to 9000 men, all desperate to touch him. During this time, he is pummeled, chased, pulled over; is bruised and must spend an entire day in the thick of a heaving mass of loin clothed bodies while completely naked. When he finally arrives at the destination, the crowds jostle to grab any available part of his body for an hour or more before he can pay his respects to the Shinto deity of the shrine. Once he is dressed he is then shooed out of town to rid the town of all evil”.
As a conclusion, the Eastern societies enjoy their own traditions with passion and compassion, transforming their expression of sexuality into tourist attractions, when the westerners have difficulties to make up with their own past, unable to solve many civil-social-psychological issues within the male sexuality.
References & Citations
1) Also mentioned boy Thomas K. Hubbard, in “Greek Love Reconsidered”, page 12: “… Sir John Beazley, the greatest scholar of Greek vases, whose 1947 study of homosexual courting scenes was the first systematic collection and analysis of this substantial body of vases (now numbering well over 100)…”;
2) “Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender”, page 222.
a) Cabezon, J. “Buddhism, Sexuality and Gender”. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications, 1992;
b) Keuls, Eva C. “The Reign of the Phallus”. London, England: University of California Press, 1985;
c) Leupp, Garry P. “Male Colors”. London, England: University of California Press, 1995;
d) Saikaku, Ihara. “The Great Mirror of Male Love”. Stanford University Press, 1990;
e) Phillips, Kathy J. “This Isn’t a Picture I’m Holding Kuan Yin”. Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii Press, 2004;
f) Freud, Sigmund. “Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis”. USA: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966;
g) Hubbard, Thomas K. “Greek Love Reconsidered”. New York, USA. Wallace Hamilton Press, 2000;
h) Crompton, Louis. “Homosexuality & Civilization”. USA: First Harvard University Press, 2006.
The King of the Masks, directed by Wu Tian Ming