The veneration of the phallus as a symbol of the male generative force, the Divine Masculine, has probably existed in some form in every single culture on the planet. The ancient Greeks and Romans venerated Priapus, whose most distinctive characteristic is his oversized penis (hence the medical term “priapism”). The Romans had Fascinus and Mutunus Tutunus, whose entire head and sometimes body is a phallus. Elsewhere, we have the phallic “lingam” statues of Hinduism, the Native American deity Kokopelli who is often depicted with his penis shown, the phallic Norse God Freyr, numerous fertility deities all over the world in the form of phallic creatures such as snakes and eels, and of course our familiar Maypoles at Beltane. Shinto is certainly no exception – there are “penis festivals” all over Japan, the most well-known being the Kanamara Matsuri in Kawasaki Prefecture where an enormous statue of a penis is paraded in full ceremonial fashion, and the revellers celebrate by eating phallic food and wearing phallic images. And in the UK, a form of phallus worship is still practiced, albeit in a rather surprising setting – Hen Parties.
Among the bewildering range of commercial products available for Hen Parties, penises seem to be a dominant theme, and the Hen Party I went to recently was no exception. We drank alcohol using penis-shaped straws. We played a game of “stick the penis on the man,” a variation of the children’s party favourite, “pin the tail on the donkey.” We wore amusing comedy spectacles that incorporated a stubby penis where the nose should be. And we posed for photos with a gigantic inflatable penis (which when pointing upward looked very much like a Maypole).
Of course, we weren’t exactly treating the phallus as something sacred at the Hen Night – all those willies were a source of bawdy amusement rather than anything else. But I like to think that all phallus worship, including those practised by the ancients, has this element of humour in them. Certainly, attendees to Japan’s penis festivals find the whole thing hilarious. Priapus was most definitely a comedy figure as well as a figure of worship in Greek/Roman mythology. And then there’s those “penis tree” pictures in Medieval manuscripts, which are almost certainly designed to be amusing as well as a symbol of fertility. At the end of the day, phallic veneration is a mixture both of sincere worship and light-hearted hilarity.
I believe that in some ways, the modern Hen Party with its comedy penises is an incarnation of ancient phallus worship. Underneath the humour, I believe that we are genuinely celebrating the joys of sex and sensuality during Hen Parties, and perhaps even subconsciously using a form of “sympathetic magick” to encourage love and fertility, in our use of phallic symbols. It is so interesting to see such ancient Pagan ideals present themselves in what is otherwise considered a very modern tradition.