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"Ithyphallic" redirects here. For the album by Nile, see Ithyphallic (album).
This article is about the roles of erect penises as symbols. For their physiology, see erection. For the mushroom, see Phallus (fungus). For the phallus in embryology, see Primordial phallus. For the rock formation, see The Phallus.
Mural of Priapus depicted with the attributes of Mercury in a fresco found in Pompeii

A phallus is a penis, especially when erect,[1] a penis-shaped object, or a mimetic image of an erect penis.

Any object that symbolically resembles a penis may also be referred to as a phallus; however, such objects are more often referred to as being phallic (as in "phallic symbol"). Such symbols often represent fertility and cultural implications that are associated with the male sexual organ, as well as the male orgasm.


Tintinnabulum from Pompeii showing a phallus

The term is a loanword from Latin phallus, itself borrowed from Greek φαλλός, which is ultimately a derivation from the Proto-Indo-European root *bʰel- "to inflate, swell". Compare with Old Norse (and modern Icelandic) boli "bull", Old English bulluc "bullock", Greek φαλλή "whale".[2]


The Hohle phallus, a 28,000-year-old siltstone phallus discovered in the Hohle Fels cave and first assembled in 2005, is among the oldest phallic representations known.[3]


Classical antiquity[edit]

Polyphallic wind chime from Pompeii; a bell hung from each phallus

In traditional Greek mythology, Hermes, god of boundaries and exchange (popularly the messenger god) is considered to be a phallic deity by association with representations of him on herms (pillars) featuring a phallus. There is no scholarly consensus on this depiction and it would be speculation to consider Hermes a type of fertility god. Pan, son of Hermes, was often depicted as having an exaggerated erect phallus.

Priapus is a Greek god of fertility whose symbol was an exaggerated phallus. The son of Aphrodite and either Dionysus or Adonis, according to different forms of the original myth, he is the protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens, and male genitalia. His name is the origin of the medical term priapism.

The city of Tyrnavos in Greece holds an annual Phallus festival, a traditional phallophoric event on the first days of Lent.[4]

The phallus was ubiquitous in ancient Roman culture, particularly in the form of the fascinum, a phallic charm. The ruins of Pompeii produced bronze wind chimes (tintinnabula) that featured the phallus, often in multiples, to ward off the evil eye and other malevolent influences. Statues of Priapus similarly guarded gardens. Roman boys wore the bulla, an amulet that contained a phallic charm, until they formally came of age. According to Augustine of Hippo, the cult of Father Liber, who presided over the citizen's entry into political and sexual manhood, involved a phallus. The phallic deity Mutunus Tutunus promoted marital sex. A sacred phallus was among the objects considered vital to the security of the Roman state which were in the keeping of the Vestal Virgins. Sexuality in ancient Rome has sometimes been characterized as "phallocentric".

Ancient Egypt[edit]

Statuette of Osiris with phallus and amulets

The phallus played a role in the cult of Osiris in ancient Egyptian religion. When Osiris' body was cut in 14 pieces, Set scattered them all over Egypt and his wife Isis retrieved all of them except one, his penis, which was swallowed by a fish; see the Legend of Osiris and Isis. Supposedly, Isis made a wooden replacement.

The phallus was a symbol of fertility, and the god Min was often depicted as ithyphallic, that is, with an erect penis.


Traditional flower offering to a lingam in Varanasi, India.

Lingam or Linga is a phallic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples.[5] In traditional Indian society, the linga is rather seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of God, Shiva himself.[6][6][7][8][9]

The lingam is often represented alongside the yoni (Sanskrit word, literally "origin" or "source" or "womb), a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy.[10] The union of lingam and yoni represents the "indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates".[11]


The Sultan's Palace of Kasepuhan with lingga-yoni structures.

In the nation of Indonesia, the phallic lingga and feminine yoni remain common symbols of harmony. The Sultan's Palace of Kasepuhan, in West Java, has a number of lingga-yoni carvings along its walls.

According to the Indonesian chronicles of the Babad Tanah Jawi, Prince Puger gained the kingly power from God, by ingesting sperm from the phallus of the already-dead Sultan Amangkurat II of Mataram.[12][13]


The Phallus is commonly depicted in its paintings.

Ancient Scandinavia[edit]

Husavik Phallusmuseum (Icelandic Phallological Museum), Húsavík


The Mara Kannon Shrine (麻羅観音) in Nagato, Yamaguchi prefecture is one of many fertility shrines in Japan that still exist today. Also present in festivals such as the Danjiri Matsuri (だんじり祭)[14] in Kishiwada, Osaka prefecture, the Kanamara Matsuri, in Kawasaki, and the Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭 Harvest Festival), in Komaki (小牧市 Komaki-shi), Aichi Prefecture (愛知県 Aichi-ken), though historically phallus adoration was more widespread.


Phallus representation Cucuteni Culture 3000 BC

Kuker is a divinity personifying fecundity, sometimes in Bulgaria and Serbia it is a plural divinity. In Bulgaria, a ritual spectacle of spring (a sort of carnival performed by Kukeri) takes place after a scenario of folk theatre, in which Kuker's role is interpreted by a man attired in a sheep- or goat-pelt, wearing a horned mask and girded with a large wooden phallus. During the ritual, various physiological acts are interpreted, including the sexual act, as a symbol of the god's sacred marriage, while the symbolical wife, appearing pregnant, mimes the pains of giving birth. This ritual inaugurates the labours of the fields (ploughing, sowing) and is carried out with the participation of numerous allegorical personages, among which is the Emperor and his entourage.[15]


The bear on the arms of Portein, Switzerland has a clearly visible red phallus, in accordance with the long-held tradition.

In Switzerland, the heraldic bears in a coat of arms had to be painted with bright red penises, or would be mocked as being she-bears. In 1579, a calendar printed in St. Gallen omitted the genitals from the heraldic bear of Appenzell, nearly leading to war between the two cantons.[16][17][18]

The Americas[edit]

Figures of Kokopelli and Itzamna (as the Mayan tonsured maize god) in Pre-Columbian America often include phallic content. Additionally, over forty large monolithic sculptures (Xkeptunich) have been documented from Terminal Classic Maya sites with the majority of examples occurring in the Puuc region of Yucatán (Amrhein 2001). Uxmal has the largest collection with eleven sculptures now housed under a protective roof on site. The largest sculpture was recorded at Almuchil measuring more than 320 cm high with a diameter at the base of the shaft measuring 44 cm.[19]

Alternative sects[edit]

In the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, founded by Aleister Crowley, some chapters practice the consumption of semen during the Gnostic Mass.[20]

St. Priapus Church (French: Église S. Priape) is a North American new religion that centres on the worship of the phallus. Founded in the 1980s in Montreal, Quebec, by D. F. Cassidy, it has a following mainly among homosexual men in Canada and the United States. Semen is also treated with reverence and its consumption is an act of worship.[21] Semen is esteemed as sacred because of its divine life-giving power.


Phallic-Head Plate, Gubbio, Italy, 1536

The symbolic version of the phallus, a phallic symbol is meant to represent male generative powers. According to Sigmund Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, while males possess a penis, no one can possess the symbolic phallus. Jacques Lacan's Ecrits: A Selection includes an essay titled The Significance of the Phallus which articulates the difference between "being" and "having" the phallus. Men are positioned as men insofar as they are seen to have the phallus. Women, not having the phallus, are seen to "be" the phallus. The symbolic phallus is the concept of being the ultimate man, and having this is compared to having the divine gift of a god.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler explores Freud's and Lacan's discussions of the symbolic phallus by pointing out the connection between the phallus and the penis. She writes, "The law requires conformity to its own notion of 'nature'. It gains its legitimacy through the binary and asymmetrical naturalization of bodies in which the phallus, though clearly not identical to the penis, deploys the penis as its naturalized instrument and sign". In Bodies that Matter, she further explores the possibilities for the phallus in her discussion of The Lesbian Phallus. If, as she notes, Freud enumerates a set of analogies and substitutions that rhetorically affirm the fundamental transferability of the phallus from the penis elsewhere, then any number of other things might come to stand in for the phallus.

Modern use of the phallus[edit]

The phallus is often used to advertise pornography, as well as the sale of contraception. It has often been used in provocative practical jokes[22] and has been the central focus of adult-audience performances.[23]

The phallus had a new set of art interpretations in the 20th century with the rise of Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychoanalysis of psychology. One example is "Princess X"[24] by the Romanian modernist sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. He created a scandal in the Salon in 1919 when he represented or caricatured Princess Marie Bonaparte as a large gleaming bronze phallus. This phallus likely symbolizes Bonaparte's obsession with the penis and her lifelong quest to achieve vaginal orgasm.[25]

See also the Most Phallic Building contest for examples of phallic architecture.

Modern art[edit]

During the modern era, many sculptors have created some public phallic works of art, some more subtle, others more clear and evident. One of these examples may be the statue in honor to the Carnation Revolution on the top of one hill in Lisbon, Portugal from the sculptor João Cutileiro.[26] Another example, more subtle, may be the statue named Crystal in the most famous central public square in Stockholm, the Sergel's square, from the sculptor Edvin Öhrström, which may be seen as a subtle phallic structure, like many other obelisks in the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of phallus in English" Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Amos, Jonathan (2005-07-25). "Ancient phallus unearthed in cave". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-07-08. 
  4. ^ "The Annual Phallus Festival in Greece", Der Spiegel, English edition, Retrieved on the 15-12-08
  5. ^ Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices, by Jeanne Fowler, pgs. 42–43,
  6. ^ a b Mudaliyar, Sabaratna. "Lecture on the Shiva Linga". Malaysia Hindu Dharma Mamandram. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  7. ^ "lingam". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Since the late 19th century some scholars have interpreted the lingam and the yoni to be representations of the male and female sexual organs. To practicing Hindus, however, the two together are a reminder that the male and female principles are inseparable and that they represent the totality of all existence. 
  8. ^ Isherwood, Christopher (1983). Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Early days at Dakshineswar: Vedanta Press,U.S. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-87481-037-0. 
  9. ^ Sivananda (1996 (web edn. 2000)). Lord Siva and His Worship. Worship of Siva Linga: The Divine Life Trust Society. ISBN 81-7052-025-8.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich Robert (1946). Campbell, Joseph, ed. Myths and symbols in Indian art and civilization. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-691-01778-6. But the basic and most common object of worship in Shiva shrines is the lingam. 
  11. ^ Jansen, Eva Rudy (2003) [1993]. The book of Hindu imagery: gods, manifestations and their meaning. Binkey Kok Publications. pp. 46, 119. ISBN 90-74597-07-6. 
  12. ^ Moertono, Soemarsaid (2009). State and Statecraft in Old Java: A Study of the Later Mataram Period, 16th to 19th Century. Equinoc Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 9786028397438. 
  13. ^ Darmaputera, Eka (1988). Pancasila and the search for identity and modernity in Indonesian society: a cultural and ethical analysis. BRILL. pp. 108–9. ISBN 9789004084223. 
  14. ^ Danjiri Matsuri Festival
  15. ^ Kernbach, Victor (1989). Dicţionar de Mitologie Generală. Bucureşti: Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică. ISBN 973-29-0030-X.
  16. ^ Neubecker, Ottfried (1976). Heraldry : sources, symbols, and meaning. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 120. ISBN 9780070463080. 
  17. ^ Strehler, Hermann (1965). "Das Churer Missale von 1589". Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 40: 186. 
  18. ^ Grzimek, Bernhard (1972). Grzimek’s Animal life encyclopedia 12. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. p. 119. 
  19. ^ Amrhein, Laura Marie (2001). An Iconographic and Historic Analysis of Terminal Classic Maya Phallic Imagery. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Richmond: Virginia Commonwealth University.
  20. ^ Gallagher, Eugene. Ashcraft, Michael. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Greenwood, 2006, ISBN 0-275-98712-4, p.101
  21. ^ J. Gordon Melton (1996, 5th ed.). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit, Mich.: Gale) ISBN 0-8103-7714-4 p. 952.
  22. ^ "Yale Band Punished for Half-Time Show". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  23. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (2002-11-01). "Puppetry of the Penis". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Mary Roach. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. W. W. Norton and Co, New York (2008).  page 66f, page 73
  26. ^ Teixeira, José. "Escultura pública em Portugal : monumentos, heróis e mitos (séc. XX)". UTL. 


External links[edit]