"Die Beschneidung bei Mann und Weib"
Gustav Feller. New Brandenburg. (1931)
"Circumcision in Man and Woman"
translated: David Berger MA
American Ethnological Press New York (1934)
AMS Press (1974) extracts from p. 92 - 207
revised: R. Stuart
Freud (pp. 131 ff.) has adopted the Darwinian picture of the primitive horde, according to which the strongest man drove off his rivals in order himself to retain complete mastery of his harem, and has sketched the primeval scene which I quote literally: "One day the expelled brothers (sons) got together, slew their father and consumed him and put an end to the paternal horde. In union they dared and brought about what would have been impossible for the individual. Perhaps some cultural advance, the manipulation of a new weapon, gave them the feeling of superiority. To have consumed the slain man as well is natural for the cannibal. The brutal, primitive father was certainly the envied and feared model of every one of the brothers. Now, by means of the act of eating him, they completed their identification with him, they assimilated a part of his strength. The totemmeal is perhaps the first festival of mankind, the repetition and memorial of this notable, criminal deed, from which so much took its inception- social organization, moral restrictions and religion". According to Freud, then, mutually contradictory emotions toward the father would have arisen among the patricides, which psychoanalysis terms the ambivalence of the father-complex. They hated their father, who, on the basis of his strength, had expelled them, but at the same time they loved and admired him. After they had removed him and thus appeased their hatred and accomplished their desire for identification with him, the suppressed, tender emotions must have arisen. This took place in the form of remorse, a consciousness of guilt arose, which coincided with the feeling of remorse that was already present. What the dead man had formerly prevented by his existence they now forbade themselves out of the psychic situation of "subsequent obedience".
1) The origin of consciousness of guilt can be explained only out of the conflict of one's own instinctive actions and the suppressive prohibitions of an existing social community. (B.)
They retrieved their deed by prohibiting the killing of the substitute for the father, the totem, and renounced the fruits of their bloody victory by abandoning the women who had now become free. Out of the consciousness of guilt of the son they created the two fundamental taboos of totemism, which, for that very reason, necessarily coincided with the two suppressed desires of the Oedipus-complex. Whoever acted contrary to them became guilty of the only two crimes that concern primitive society. (Zeller, p. 119.)
The incestuous desires slumbering in the child upon awakening not only threaten the father, but the whole social community. These desires now had to be suppressed in an effective manner. Circumcision would be one of these conductors of the incest-instinct. It satisfies -according to psychoanalysis- the inimical impulses of the father who is afraid of his growing son, particularly because the latter wishes to rob him of his wife (2) . The boy must be punished: in this sense circumcision is castration, it is its equivalent, its symbol. By means of castration sexual intercourse, especially incest, is to be prevented. But circumcision is also a symbol of death. The many rites and ceremonies of the monster or spirit who kills and devours the not yet initiated and consecrated, with which their totem-animal, their ancestor, must really be identified, all point to this. It is a matter of requital, because primevally the sons have killed their father and now fear a recurrence. The tortures and torments are only an attendant phenomenon to the two main hostile motives of the father: castration and death. We quote the founder of this theory, Reik, who writes (pp. 89-91): "We have previously found the simulation of killing bound
2 This speculation overlooks the fact that in the meantime the woman, the Mother of the son, has become at least twelve years older (since the birth of her first son), and thus, considering the incestuous bent of the father (which psychoanalysis does not consider) and his polygynous instincts; lost all importance in this question.
up with the operation of circumcision: circumcision is not a commutation of human sacrifice but rather killing and circumcision are two separate actions, connected only by the unconscious emotional life, of which the first represents punishment for the unconscious desire of killing the father, the second, punishment for the desire of incest of the young people in their 'most dangerous age.' If we took into consideration the intimate connection of these factors that are fundamental to both, we should not be surprised to find in the rites of resurrection as well a reaction against the threat of castration, which circumcision represents both genetically and symbolically. As a matter of fact, such is the case. Let us recall those variations of the initiation ceremonies in which it is assumed that spirits in the forest take away certain parts of the body from the boys and give them new ones in exchange, e.g. better intestines, lungs, etc. Let us further picture to ourselves that identification with the totem-animal or the ancestral spirits confers the powers and capabilities, indeed, even the bodily characteristics, of the totem. It is not difficult to find in this identification that factor which is an alleviation of the threat of castration, namely, the imaginative desire of exchanging one's own little penis for the big one of his father. Indeed, it can even be said that it is this imaginative desire that is present in the consciousness of peoples in a more or less distorted form as the only sense of circumcision. If natives are questioned as to the purpose of circumcision, their answer coincides with the judgement of authorities on the subject, anthropologists and ethnologists, saying that it is an operation to facilitate sexual intercourse or to intensify its pleasure. But the imaginative desire of the primitive given above, of receiving the larger penis of the totem or father instead of that amputated from one's self, by identification with the father, gives us an exact ethno-psychological parallel to certain infantile reactions to the
threat of castration. That operation and disjunction of the organ at the hands of spirits in primitive initiation rites is similar in every respect to the imagination of little Hans, whose 'podel' and 'weewee-maker' (penis, B.) an installator took away to bring him two larger copies of those valuable parts of the body 'just like daddy's'. An unconscious connection between the two rites is found in the fact that the states of death and resurrection represent symbolically the relaxation and erection of the penis".
It is interesting to see how Reik logically connects circumcision among the Jews with his psychoanalytic speculation and interprets it accordingly. It was a valuable contribution that once and for all the holy custom of the Israelites was declared to be simply a counterpart of the "barbaric" rites of the puberty initiations of the savage. Moreover, in the "bar-mitzva" of the masculine Israelites, which coincides with the confirmation of Christians, the institution of initiation of boys is preserved to the present day just as in leaving-examinations or any other declarations of maturity.
Reik (p. 122) follows this up: "The connection of the brith with circumcision is just as little a matter of chance as the feast of the covenant in which the followers of Jehovah identify themselves with him, and, also, the fact of the giving of the laws - brith itself can mean law - which is connected so intimately with the conclusion of the covenant (Sinai) may be paralleled with the rites of puberty. The promise of numerous offspring corresponds to the primitive license for sexual intercourse just as that of the promised land, sexual-symbolically, presents the prospect of a substitute for the beloved mother. The threats which Yahweh utters in the case of a transgression of the covenant are fundamentally the same as those which the Au-
stralian negroes heap on the matured youths. The psychoanalysis of the rites of puberty will permit seeing in the significant occurrences of masculine initiations that are found today in the bush the modern counterpart of the dispensation of Mt. Sinai".
After circumcision, exactly as at the conclusion of those puberty initiations that do not include circumcision at all, the boy is received into society as a valuable citizen of equal rank, who from now on enjoys all the rights previously denied him. Sexual intercourse, in particular, is now granted to him freely: his identification card, his badge for marriage is obvious enough.
"Many Central Australian tribes believe that after initiation a boy must have sexual intercourse or die. In Serange, one of the Molukka Islands, the young man must have intercourse with young girls, no matter which, directly after circumcision 'in order that the wound heal'. (Crawley) That is continued until the wound has stopped bleeding. Among the Kikuyu of West Africa (? B.) it is believed that the first cohabitation the newly circumcised practice will lead either to their own or their partners' death. They seek to escape this melancholy fate by the following means. After the performance of the rites of puberty the men collect in groups of fifteen to twenty, fall upon several old women in solitary places, abuse them sexually and then kill them. The death of these old women frees the youths of all danger." (1)
1) Chazac, La Religion des Kikuyu. Anthropos, Vol. II, p. 317, 1910, (Reik, p. 96), Crawley, The Mystic Rose, pp. 309 ff., London, 1902.
Reik (p. 99) is of the opinion, in connection with this, "that it was only late that permission for sexual intercourse after circumcision lifted the general ban and that this belongs to an advanced stage of development. Originally this prohibition remained effectual in spite of. the operation. Thus the young men of the Aranda and other tribes of central Australia, in the 'good, old times,' had to wait for the women promised them until the first grey hairs showed in their beards".
Now Zeller has extended the explanation of the idea of circumcision advanced by psychoanalysis on the basis of intensive studies of initiation rites of boys in the literature pertaining to the subject and with consideration of most of the other explanations suggested. We quote his conclusions literally; but in order that they be not removed from their proper context, we must first give a few descriptions of incision.
Langsdorff relates the following on the circumcision of the Nuhakiwans: "Circumcision or the slitting up and extension of the foreskin is a general operation among the Nuhakiwans (South Sea Islanders) which is not performed until rather late, usually when the boy has reached sexual maturity. A small rod covered by a piece of cloth is inserted under the foreskin, which is then ripped up with a sharp stone and the wound rubbed in with the juice of a plant (pahpa). Although severe inflammation sometimes results, it usually passes away in ten to twelve days. Anyone may perform the operation except the father of the boy. The operator is called tahba; he is retained in the house of the patient until all inflammation is gone, where he is served with abundant pork, and when leaving he receives a pig as remuneration. Cleanliness is apparently intended at this operation".
We find another report on incision in Kramer (pp. 61 f.): "Circumcision, in this case not an actual 'cutting around', but a simple splitting of the foreskin, that is, an incision into the upper edge, as is generally customary in Indonesia, is performed in the following manner: spatula is inserted under the foreskin and the latter severed by a blow with some sharp object such as a shark's tooth, a shell, a bamboo knife, and recently, of course, a steel knife. It is performed among the Samoan youth similarly as among the Mohammedans, at the appearance of puberty, always between the seventh and fifteenth
year. Religious customs, as is the case among other peoples ... seem never to have been connected with the operation in Samoa. It is performed usually by one experienced in it. The leading motive for Samoa seems to have been that of cleanliness for it is said that no Samoan girl would sleep with one who was uncircumcised".
While Kramer as a physician is inclined to accept the hygienic value of the concept of cleanliness as the original reason for the introduction of circumcision and to consider everything else, such as religious rites, to be secondary, both of the Sarasins (p. 52 ff.) in view of the incision which they found on the Celebes, are of a different opinion: "Smashing out of the teeth (in boys only of the crown) is customary, the teeth being partly sawed through first and then broken off. The boys themselves choose the time. Since the operation is performed on all men and women, it may originally have been a sacrifice of a part of the body in lieu of the whole, as is suspected to be the case also with circumcision. The latter operation is performed on all boys, a round rod being inserted under the foreskin, down the whole length of which the prepuce is split, but not removed; this is incision, not circumcision. The wound was shown us, a very harmless incision but quite useful against possible phimosis".
I am in full agreement with Bryk`s following footnotes - it is essential to remember that Bryk is merely relating what others have suggested as origin, he does this picturesquely building a framework for his more elementary theories - at the same time commenting - often sarcastically- in his footnotes(RS)
Zeller remarks on this (pp. 132 ff.):
tion of a few scars, the organ is in no way changed,(1) it cannot be a question here of the correction of nature, which Heinrich Ploss considers to be the original reason for every circumcision. If this view were to be accepted, the omission of circumcision in the case of the younger boys would have to be explained, since only that could be a correction of nature in the sense of Ploss. The reason for perforation must be sought for elsewhere.
1) A change does take place in so far as the prepuce may now be drawn back without difficulty. (B.)
"the omission of circumcision in the case of the younger boys would have to be explained," RS though many cultural "irrational" reasons may have developed, rationally speaking, among 11 - 13 yr. olds even a small perforation would assist any stretching necessary before marriage, whereas older boys needed the full cure - thus the medicinal purpose was effected and also an appropriate measure of pain delivered to initiates of different ages ... perforation is simply another cure perhaps to an even greater extent one could call it a preventative measure, - similar to stretching the foreskin which Bryk refers to later..... Zeller continues
"The commonest form of manipulation of the penis is circumcision in its literal sense. In addition it is the best known since the Jews also perform it, The procedure is not the same, of course, among all peoples, but the amputation of the foreskin is always present. (2) I may assume the explanations suggested to be well known. I must first establish certain facts: in our first part we have found no circumcision that was not performed without special rites.(3) We cannot very well deny the religious background of these rites. Even Ploss and Andree cannot shut their eyes to these facts, but maintain that the religious rites have nothing to do with the origin of circumcision, having been connected with them only subsequently. The explanation they suggest presupposes that observation and detached contemplation existed among savages before religious usages, for the correction of nature as the origin of circumcision demands this assumption. (4) Now it seems to me that the religious factor is quite generally the primary one, and the other, if it is at all to be considered, only secondary. We shall occupy ourselves very intensively with these ceremonies, which will lead us to totemism almost every time. Some light is thrown on the subject by the treatment of the ampu-
2) Not always. Cf. Merker on the Masai, Luchan on the Hottentots, Bryk on the Kikuyu. (B.)
3) Tessman, Czekanowski und Kramer mention circumcisions without rites. (B.)
4) The perception of pain and difficulty by sexual intercourse does not require "detached contemplation". (RS.)
tated foreskin. It is seldom thrown aside negligently. Usually it is buried in a particular spot; this also includes burying it in an ant hill, where the ants effect its complete annihilation. In this custom the fear that some magician could cast a spell over the foreskin and thereby cause its previous owner great harm, may have been decisive. But the supernatural is indicated in the custom of entombing the foreskin in a mountain cave together with bullroarers (spirit voices) as Frobenius describes it of the Durru. A similar entombment is carried out by various Australian tribes, according to Frazer; they place the foreskins in totem-trees, totem-rocks and other totem-centers, which serve as the abodes of the souls of the departed while they wait for rebirth. Among the Hova the father of the boy must eat the foreskin with a banana, or it is wrapped in a banana leaf and given to a calf to eat.
"If circumcision were really only an act of preparation for procreation, would there be any sense in treating the foreskin in this remarkable manner? (1)
1) The cultic treatment of the amputated foreskin is something quite secondary, dictated later by the magical conceptions of the tribes in question. (B.)
"Subincision is confined to Australia. That the explanation suggested
by Ploss and Andree cannot prevail here either need not be shown in
detail. We are acquainted with the view of Strehlow on this point and
shall quote only the opinion of E. Eylmann: (2)
"Let us first assume that the natives had introduced subincision in order to prevent over-population.
"It is clear to everyone that they could have arrived at the conclusion that a splitting of the organ would lead to a diminution of births simply and entirely by logical thinking. In such a case it was necessary that they know, of course, the function of the seminal fluid. However, this is not the case.
"Let us look about then for another possibility that could have led to the mutilation of the penis. As we know, the young lad, in being received into the circle of men, must be subjected to specific tortures, many of which leave permanent disfigurations behind. Splitting the masculine organ is one of these tortures. I doubt that the reader will contradict me if I maintain that this highly painful operation could have had the purpose merely of furnishing the lad with a permanent mark of distinction and to make him an obedient member of the society by means of intense bullying, or, if we prefer, 'to test his courage and staunchness'.(1)
1) Qui tacet consentire videtur, therefore I do contradict and point, among other things, to the explanation 1 have suggested. (B.)
"Missionaries of Hermannsburg and Kitalpanina, asserted to me that the boys of the stations were less guilty of moral transgression after subincision than before it, even if, as 'young men', they remained unmarried for years.(2) If the missionaries were not mistaken, one could draw the conclusion from their observation that sexual excitability was reduced as a result of this splitting of the penis.
2) Again a false conclusion; a false reason is concluded from the apparent effect. Through the official reception into the society of men, every circumcised boy (in Africa as well) becomes more serious; he casts off the clothes of his youth, the course of his life is now regulated. (B.)
"Strehlow and Eylmann, therefore, agree in the main, but especially when rejecting diminution of births as the cause of subincision. It is an important point that the young men, after subincision, become less prone to moral transgression, as Eylmann relates. Strehlow gives this very point as the reason for subincision, namely, the restriction of the sexual excesses of the youth.
"The last kind of circumcision is partial testicular extirpation. I need not waste any words on the reliability of the source. The significance of this form of circumci-
sion is obvious. It is castration, in spite of the fact that only one testicle is excised.
"Thus we arrive at the explanation of circumcision suggested by psychoanalysis in its broad sense. We have already become acquainted with it, but on account of its great importance we repeat it cursorily. Psychoanalysis sees in circumcision an unconscious symbol of castration, designed to prevent the young boy, tending toward incest with his mother, from carrying out his unconscious desire. Circumcision (castration) is performed by the men because they feel they are threatened by the unconscious desires of the boys, directed toward their wives.(1) By this act, coitus, and consequently incest, are made symbolically impossible and the hostile feelings of the boy against his father become purposeless. As we have seen, the symbol of castration is used for testicular extirpation.
1) The circumcised youth, whether married or unmarried, sets his desires especially upon unfamiliar women; cf. Bryk, Voodoo-Eros, p. 112. (B.)
"In the case of subincision, the explanation, rejected however, by Strehlow and Eylmann, that a diminishing in the number of births is thus attained, needs only a slight change: that sexual intercourse in general is thus prevented.(2) We have the symbol of castration, then, here also. But this statement demands some support, with which Strehlow himself furnishes us, in the reasons given him by the natives themselves for circumcision and subincision. According to these, the boys, who are entering their 'wild oats' years, must be brought under the dominion of the old men by circumcision; they must be brought up in obedience. The men resist the insubordination of the boys resulting from their hostile emotions. If they did not practice circumcision, the young men would
2) Since subincision is performed on all men, then according to Zeller the whole tribe would be symbolically prevented from practicing sexual intercourse, which Zeller can hardly assume as being intended. (B.)
murder the members of their tribe and devour them.(1) Thus relates the legend of the hawk-men. Translated into psychoanalysis, the interpretation is as follows: if you men do not circumcise (castrate) the boys, they will follow their hostile impulses, and kill and devour you, as the sons did to their father in the primeval horde.
1) All the other primitive peoples who are unacquainted with circumcision or have rejected it seem to get along without circumcision. (B.)
"In addition, circumcision is meant to put a brake to the excesses of the boys, who are at a critical age. It is easily comprehensible that during this time of sexual ripening, a desire for incest actually exists, which is just what the men fear and seek to annul; this is shown by the strong incestual instinct among the Australians, manifested by their complicated marriage prohibitions. By castration a final barrier would be put before it. But for reasons of procreation, it must remain a symbol . (2) The two points elucidated here distinctly show that circumcision is an act inimical to the boy.
2) Castration must consequently be relinquished; the symbol of a substitute is not very effective, the whole thing is a farce which any incestuous person can easily see through.
"The two following points have their origin in affection for the boy, for they say that circumcision prevents the prepuce growing together, and that subincision is to make the boy supple. The ambivalence of the emotions is made manifest here.
"Point five (? the next point RS) gives us in a few strokes a copy of the Freudian primeval horde. In the former the father takes possession of all the females for his own use, in the latter it is the old men who take all the girls and women for themselves, giving the sons nothing for a long time, and finally only an old woman. It is obvious that the old men, who have the power, will not let go of a custom that grants them such privileges. On the other hand the youths, who are thus deprived of marriage possibilities for a long time, must harbor particularly hostile emotions
toward the men who keep the women from them, emotions at least as strong as their unsatisfied sexual instincts. Consequently the men are in greater danger here than among other peoples where such limitations do not exist. This is possibly the reason why we find two kinds of circumcision among the Australians, circumcision proper and subincision, while the latter is to be found nowhere else.
"If one examines the results of circumcision, there is actually to be found, as Eylmann reports, the effect desired by the fathers. Moral transgressions, among which incest is probably included, are not so common as formerly; a brake has been set to these instincts. Thus the symbol of castration effects a limitation necessarily lying in the direction of the sexual instinct.
"It is obvious that among the Australians it was originally not at all a matter of preparation for the sexual function.
"Perforation also, which in older boys is bound up with circumcision, can be proved to be a symbol of castration, since directly after the operation even among those candidates who are already married, all sexual intercourse is strictly forbidden for a certain time.(1) Here, then, the effect which circumcision is to have as a symbol of castration is produced artificially by a prohibition. It is this very prohibition which distinctly shows what the fathers really want. The continence imposed upon the boys during their initiation, or, as it could also be termed, the enforced sexual impotence prevents them equally well from committing incest as complete castration would. This prohibition is confined temporarily to the initiation since it is not necessary any more after it, when the boys have suppressed their infantile emotions and become identified with the fathers. The moment of the sexual continence imposed
1) This prohibition is almost universal for all those newly circumcised until their complete convalescence. (B.)
by the fathers is very important, since it occurs in most of the initiation rites of boys.
"Let us now consider the other ... well-known explanations suggested. First we, have the following group of researches: H. Ploss, R. Andree, H. Schurtz, and L. Frobenius. All, with slight variations, subscribe to the same view. We have already approached this opinion without psychoanalysis. But psychoanalysis does not reject these explanations directly. If the natives themselves declare that circumcision is to facilitate the act of procreation, and perhaps intensify its pleasure as well, or that it is performed for hygienic reasons, this motivation is not to be cast aside without consideration.
"If psychoanalysis admits the justification of this motivation, it professes two opinions that appear incompatible, indeed, even directly opposed to each other. But the contrast is easily neutralized by the ambivalence of the emotions in the fathers. In most races, the hostile emotions of the fathers have been relegated to the subconscious through centuries of repression, and only the friendly emotions are now manifest. Today the natives explain circumcision as a friendly and benevolent act which is useful and salutary to the boys.
"Thus Ploss and his followers base themselves, in their explanations, only on the friendly side of this ambivalence, while psychoanalysis takes both into consideration . . . Accordingly, both sides of this ambivalence must still be verified today, and it is for this very reason that it is impossible to advance an explanation that holds only to one side.
"We shall not spend too much time on the explanation suggested by Otto Stoll. He sees in circumcision nothing more than one of the many kinds of tortures to which boys are exposed during their initiation. The sexual organ is simply another base for bloody mutilation . . . Stoll is quite alone in this opinion".
It is not possible to place all other tortures on the same plane with circumcision. Let it be mentioned in passing that every one of the other forms of torment is separately determined psychically. In regard to several points Zeller agrees with the explanation suggested by B. Renz; he establishes the religious standpoint of circumcision and thus occupies the same ground. Zeller writes again: 'Then there follows the view that the sexual factor is decisive for the act of circumcision; that it is a case of the worship of sexuality or fruitfulness'.
"Psychoanalysis does not at all reject such a conception, but does maintain that it is not the only valid one; because the other side of the emotional ambivalence must also be taken into consideration ...
"As a result the following interesting fact is determined, that the more the friendly side of the ambivalence of emotions becomes established, the more the hostile side is suppressed into the unconscious and the higher the nation is culturally. The case of Australia is important as showing a state in which the friendly and hostile sides are still in the balance, to a certain extent . . The idea of alliance, which Renz gives as the reason for circumcision, is applicable rather to the whole initiation, since all those initiated at the same time remain allied for the rest of their lives. She says that circumcision plays a part in this alliance in that it furnishes a sign of union. Although blood brotherhood occurs, as we shall see, still it seems to me that circumcision cannot be motivated in this way. The idea of alliance is most marked in Jewish circumcision where it represents the covenant with the One God. But one must beware of drawing general conclusions from a circumcision that is more a survival of a former initiation ceremony, and, moreover, is practiced by a people that is highly advanced culturally."
Nor can Zeller allow circumcision as the original sign of the tribe. For, since circumcision is so wide-spread, it
would frequently happen that all the neighboring tribes would have a similar sign. Zeller cannot subscribe to the opinion that circumcision is a rebirth from the stomach of a spirit, represented by all kinds of isolation huts, etc., .as Frazer and Renz contend, for the reason that circumcision appears first and only then does isolation from the external world follow. The other arguments advanced by Frazer in support of his rebirth-theory were likewise criticized by Zeller. Instead of a rebirth, he sees in everything a symbolic killing of the youth during the act of circumcision. Zeller continues:
"With this conception of circumcision as a symbol of killing I go further than psychoanalysis. It sees in circumcision only a symbol of castration and not a killing ... The treatment of the foreskin after circumcision, as well as other ceremonies, must lead to the view that, besides the point of castration, circumcision represents also a symbol of death. It is likewise a sacrifice of the boy and accordingly belongs in the same class with cutting of the hair, the tooth operation, surgical manipulation of the lobe of the ear, the septum of the nose, etc.... Very few sources mention anything about the treatment of the wound. Usually its healing is left to nature; occasionally the relatives take measures to alleviate or accelerate recovery. There is a purpose in this absence of treatment of the wound, for primitive man is very well versed in cures for other wounds. But if two sources tell us that the wound is not only not treated, but actually afflicted with unbearable pains, that certainly looks like purposed torture".(1)
(1) Zeller goes too far here. Whoever is acquainted with the original preparation of foods among primitive people, which consists or consisted mainly in poisonous plants, would seem justified, by analogy, in concluding that the women who prepared the food wished to poison their husbands. That these antiseptics have the effect of poisons may very well point to the primitive state of therapeutics here, but does not at all justify drawing the conclusion that Zeller does. (B.)
Zeller sums up his suggested psychoanalytical explanation as follows: "Wherever circumcision is practiced it is always performed during the years of puberty. In those cases where it is performed during the first months or
years of the boy's life, a secondary shift of the custom has taken place.
"Circumcision is a symbol of castration but at the same time also a symbol of the killing and sacrifice of the whole person.
"The tooth operations signify a sacrifice of the sexual organs and in a broader sense a sacrifice of the whole person. They are substitutes for circumcision. The cutting of the hair likewise represents a symbolic sacrifice of the whole body.
"Tatooing was originally a typical torment and hostile action of the father toward his son. In the course of time it has developed into a tribal sign and means of adornment.
"Tortures and torments likewise were originally hostile acts of the fathers against the boys as a punishment for their unconscious incestuous lusts and patricidal desires. But as a result of centuries of suppression the hostile side of the emotional ambivalence of the fathers was thrown more or less into the unconscious, so that today, in the main, it is only the friendly side that consciously appears. It explains these tortures as tests of courage and staunchness, serving to inure the boys against hardships. Both explanations together possess validity, but one alone does not. The rites of killing, in which category belong also, besides the direct symbol of devouring, the indirect symbols of isolation, sleep. silence, etc., are the requital unconsciously paid the sons by their fathers for their murderous designs. Wherever the symbolic killing occurs through a monster or spirit, the men identify themselves with them.
"The spirit presiding over the initiation is in most cases a totem in the form of a monster or some ancestral figure. It follows from this, as also from other rites, that the religious factor was originally one of the chief constituents of every initiation of boys.
"Sacrifices and sacrificial meals usually affect totem animals. By the transgression of the taboo against killing and eating the totem animals, a very intimate relationship is thought to arise between the already initiated and the novices.
"Sexual precepts form a great part of the instructions received by the youths. Especially incest is strictly forbidden. The reason for this is to be found in the fear the men have of the boys' desires, the satisfaction of which could become dangerous to them.
"The instruction in the dance has as its purpose the bringing about of an identification of the boys with the spirit of the initiation.
"The reappearance of the boys out of isolation in the form of a rebirth corresponds to the primitive view that the soul of one who is dead may attain to life again only through the medium of a rebirth, by penetrating into the body of the new-born individual.
"The initiation of boys in its totality is a great process of suppression forced upon the boys by the fathers, the accomplishment of which is necessary for the preservation of the social structure".
The explanation advanced by Zeller has been rejected by ethnologists (Anckermann).
initiation rites, rather as a consequence of them: that it did arise out of purely physiological and psychological factors that dominate primitive man.
The latest explanation advanced by Preuss (II) applies only to individual cases: "At the initiation rites, continued life in the beyond seems to have been bound up with a long prosperous life on earth as a self-understood consequence. During the time of the solemnities, the sexual element, logically leading to death, was marked either during or before sexual maturity. Circumcisions of the genitalia of any kind whatsoever, so far as they occur among other peoples, do not necessarily embrace within themselves any other idea than that of a badge and guarantee that coitus may take place without the consequence of death".
If a negro is asked why he circumcised himself, he usually gives no answer because he does not know. In many cases the reason he gives is an esthetic motive: (Bryk, I, p. 55), it is performed because it is maridati, because it is beautiful: that is, in a broader sense, because it has an erotic effect. Even if it is certain that this is a discernment resulting from the custom of circumcision, this explanation in itself is of a "magic" nature, because it confuses effect with cause.
Ludolf (Lib. III, c. I) received a similar explanation from the Abyssinian king Claudius: "Our circumcision, indeed, is performed to follow the usage of the country, just like cutting into the face in Aethiopia and Nubia and perforating the ear among the Indians. Moreover, what we do, we do not do in observation of the Mosaic laws, but rather because of a human custom".
That is, circumcision is specifically put into a class with artificial body decorations, ornamental scars or perforations of the ear, and it is not practiced for religious reasons. Westermarck still conceives it as being purely esthetic. "The mutilations, after the eye had become ac-
customed to them, gradually ceased to be fascinating and their performance continued simply as a result of the force of custom or for a religious reason", until it was neutralized by a new means of stimulation, clothing. (Westermarck, p. 204.)
On the other hand, many nations that do not circumcise themselves find the circumcised penis ugly. Antiquity, in its classical works of sculpture, always emphasizes the long foreskin, and very recently, Doiteau attempted to obtain proof, on the basis of an official inquiry at which artists in particular took part, that the penis with the probiscidiform continuation of the foreskin had a finer esthetic effect than the circumcised penis. For this reason Doiteau (p. 173, f. 13) even invented a new method of medicinal circumcision in which this note of the esthetic value of the undenuded penis was given expression: the circumcised penis is made to look as much as possible like one that is normal (uncircumcised). Zacharias, bishop of Chrysopolis, had already explained the circumcision of the sexual organ in particular with the purpose of making no other visible organ weak or ugly (ne aliud membrum aut debile fieret aut turpe, quid publice videretur), and claimed - strangely enough - to have discovered in the prepuce the seat of the evil passion (... in parte illa magis dominatur cupiscentia). (Glasberg, p. 214, note 1.)
Von Sydow also disavows the esthetic property of the circumcised organ. Von Sydow (p. 141) is of the opinion that, judging by other artificial deformations of parts of the human body, as, for example, the perforation of the ears and lips in order to press rings and blocks into them, some esthetic insert should be determinable for circumcision as well. Von Sydow continues: "While these (deformations) serve the purpose of imparting to the organ in question a specific ornamentation by means of the lip-plug, ear-ring,
etc., that is, to enrich the organ artificially, this point of view of the esthetic in the treatment of the masculine sexual organ is, with few exceptions, absolutely unfounded, - it is not a question of embellishment, but of injury (1) that is applied to it. Certainly this organ, as no other, is unprepared to serve as the bearer of a specific ornament. But it, seems really striking that the most important member of the masculine body is never given any more emphasis than by means of ornamented or otherwise artistically displayed penis-tops (cf. on penistops F. Luschan in Mitt. d. Anthr. Ges. Wien, 48 Bd. 1918, S. 67). The Baroque period of Europe, as it is well known, was not the least bit timid in making it visible in clothing. If one compares the solicitude usually exhibited by primitive peoples in the decoration of every one of their other members with the almost hostile joy they seem to take in the injury of the phallus, one will readily heed the theory advanced by psychoanalysis which conceives of circumcision as a self-defence on the part of the old generation against the incestuous and murderous desires of the new". (Th. Reik and M. Zeller are quoted.) "We may doubt whether the more comprehensive problem of primitive rites can be elucidated by this theory with universal validity. Our more important question at present is the reason for the constant aversion to emphasizing the masculine organ by ornamentation. Even if one considers all the puberty rites to be explained, it still remains unexplained why later on, the older generation still does not grant itself (that which out of fear, they would like to suppress in the younger generation), the joy of decorating their own organs, For what reason is this life-long lack of ornamentation especially in this, the most important organ of all?
1) The author does not consider the fact that injuries may be decorative; I mention in this connection simply the widely distributed decorative scars. (B.)
"We shall content ourselves simply with noticing the
accomplishments of psychoanalysts who in their studies of primitive peoples have pointed out that the beginning of the suppression of sexuality is to be found in primitive culture. It is probably to this process that must be ascribed the particular pertinacity with which the masculine sexual organ is denied esthetic appreciation, to which, logically considered, it would have the highest claim".
In discussing the mutilation of teeth (p. 146) von Sydow returns to the theme just quoted. "These mutilations of the teeth, which sometimes are of very wide compass, bring us back again to circumcision. For they have this in common, that, in great measure, they mean no enrichment esthetically, but rather the contrary. Tooth and phallus stand in a particularly intimate relationship, the tooth symbolizing the masculine organ in dreams. (Freud: "Traumdeutung", ges. Schr. III, 103 ff.) If we have found ourselves forced to see in circumcision the manifestation of suppression, then we have every reason now to argue a similar motive as the intrinsic and universal reason for these tooth mutilations: In both cases the antipathy against the sexual is expressed in so radical a manner as to allow only the consideration of life and death".
The esthetic (erotic) instinct does not rest; and in the end, with the spread of the custom of tattooing, the glans is also drawn into the sphere of those parts of the body to be decorated. Gerland, Joest and Adachi, as well as others, report this. Penis-cases are also worn for similar motives.
According to Gerland (Waitz) it is remarkable "that the Polynesians are uncommonly modest in regard to the glans, and still they are accustomed to expose it by slitting the foreskin and (e.g. in Tonga) to tattoo the glans thus exposed".
Gerland maintains that at the bottom of this dread of the sight of the glans is not modesty but religiousness; this part was taboo and the sight of it an offence. Gerland is of the opinion that the glans was considered a pre eminent life-dispensing member, just as the navel (which is also tabooed) is considered the point of departure of life, and that it was for this reason that the part was originally provided with a picture or sign of the god.
"The foreskin was slit up in order not to hide the life dispensing part of the body, which was particularly holy to the gods; but it was probably much later, when the Polynesian peculiarity had been strongly developed, that it was tied up again in order to withdraw from the gaze of mankind, that portion which on account of its holiness was strictly taboo (i.e., belonged to the gods), in order to prevent a breach of the taboo".(1)
1) Among the inhabitants of Nukahiwa the foreskin is drawn over the glans and tied up with a string (cf. U. Lisiansky, p. 86). (B.)
Waitz remarks on this in a footnote: "Jewish circumcision as well is to be conceived of in essentially the same manner. The connection here is clearly seen: the life dispensing organ is consecrated to God for the promised offspring".
Joest (p. 66) likewise mentions that the genitalia are tattooed. Adachi (p. 356) tells of the case of a Japanese dice-player who had on his glans three small, blue points which, during erection, turned out to be three flies. He was particularly proud of this ornament because he had it tattooed on while his penis was in a state of erection.
Why or how it is that the exposed glans is considered to have an esthetic advantage will be seen in the treatment of the phallic motive. However, let it be mentioned here, that the circumcised are often not unwilling to display their genitalia. I repeatedly saw circumcised Sebeyi conversing with women with the penis unconcernedly hanging out of their "togas". And according to John-
ston this kind of exhibitionism is even considered the right thing to do among the Massai (Westermarck, p. 187).
K. Th. Preuss has derived a new explanation for circumcision of a purely magical nature from the tattooing of the glans: "Let us first examine the case of tattooing of the sexual parts-and we must also include in this category those parts of the body in the immediate vicinity of the sexual organs, from the thigh to the navel. In the first place it is necessary that we free ourselves altogether from the idea that primitive man looked upon this natural, animal function, which is almost as usual as metabolism, as correspondingly self-understood and natural. For all magical puberty rites that we know are all primarily directed toward the sexual act. And it is significant that, immediately before coitus, purifications - evidently for the intensification of the magical power - take place. The act then was something magical, not only on account of the condition of excitement connected with it, but also on account of the results of cohabitation.
"Consequently, when we find the sexual parts tattooed, we must think of all the magical effects of the sexual orifices and particularly, of course, of the 'magic' of the procreation of children, that are to be imparted all at once at the time of puberty. And if the belief was not present that the youth received this magical power entirely through these ceremonies, there was at least the idea that the latent magical properties had to be awakened and intensified by adjuvant magical means to function. All at once the various kinds of circumcision all over the world become clear. Even today it is here and there expressly stated by the natives that it helps in the procreation of children".
Even the "timidity toward the prima nox" was connected with circumcision. (Honigmann.)
Quite peculiar, even though in the sense of a physi-
ological explanation, is the interpretation of Dr. Jacobus X. - -, who places the considerable length of the negro penis in a certain dependent relationship to circumcision.
Exact figures on the length of the penis of negroes are given by the French physician Jacobus X . . . In spite of its considerable length (Jacobus X... therefore terms these "truly fearful machines the terror of all black women") the penis is comparatively weak when erected, nor does it ever become as hard as that of the European, Hindu and Chinese, but rather remains as soft as black, elastic caoutehouk.
Dr. Jacobus X . . . considers circumcision a probable cause of such hypertrophy of the penis. Karsch (p. 123) remarks on this: "Since, however, circumcision is also customary among many peoples, without giving rise to anything similar, the decisive influence will have to be ascribed to race character".
According to Jacobus X... only a small amount of sebaceous smegma is found under the foreskin of the negro; he does not say whether cleanliness or a physiological peculiarity is the cause of it. The as yet uncircumcised foreskin of the negro forms a pad in front of the glans. We have already mentioned the defenders of the Cuibono-consideration who always scent some idea of utility behind every human institution. They place utility in the foreground; it determines circumcision which has the purpose of prophylactically preventing various diseases (Phimosis, gonorrhoea of the glans, balanitis, etc.). The explanation of Michaelis and Sachtleben goes even further, seeing in circumcision a preventative and cure of masturbation. Michaelis (p. 39) learned from an anonymous "knower of nature" that circumcision prevented masturbation ... that onanism was presumably too painful for one who was circumcised. Referring to this wholesome state Michaelis asks: "why God in the New Testament had abolished such a beneficent commandment
which prescribed the preventative for such a terrible depravity, one that certainly could not be prevented by the greatest care on the part of parents and guardians, and why he had not rather made it universal through the Christian religion? or why he had not created our nature better in the first place, and made it a rule with human beings, what was now only an occasional exception, to be born without the projecting foreskin"?(1)
1) This consideration reminds us of the question of the skeptics (Origines) and the one put to Rabbi Hosaiah (according to Beraschith Raba, Chap. II), why Adam had not been born without the foreskin in the first place. "Man," was the answer of the sage, must perfect himself and make himself what he should be by nature." Moreover, Darwin has already called attention to the fact that in spite of thousands of years of circumcision, the Jews still come into the world with the foreskin. A clear thinker who is acquainted with the nature of heredity can see no reason for circumcision being hereditary. Such a thought could have come only from one whose thinking is prelogical. (B.)
But Michaelis, after lengthy consideration, doubts the efficiency of circumcision as a preventitive against masturbation, not knowing "whether I should readily believe that there are perhaps several varieties of onanism (2) that become painful to one who is circumcised".
2) Michaelis seems to know of several modes of masturbation which he calls "the sin of the apes." Why not of human beings? Manustupration was not observed in apes in nature and is probably a result of their captivity. (B.)
Sachtleben (p. 107) is even more apodictic than Michaelis in respect to the effectiveness of circumcision. He writes (p. 103): "circumcision - as a preventitive and cure of onanism - may be performed not only on children, but also youths and even adults without any danger to life or any other disadvantage to health ... Circumcision is probably very much more powerful and perhaps the most effective of all means ... The pain (3) involved in the onanism or manustupration of those who are circumcised is much too severe not to outweigh the pleasure combined with the act. But this pain must be all the greater and inevitable the more sensitive the tip of the glans is -the corona glandis- and the higher the tension caused by the shortened foreskin in erection, as it resists the pleasurable friction of the glans".
3) Sachtleben refers to Michaelis` anonymous authority. (B.)
He calls this quite untenable conception "my favorite hypothesis". In the year 1842 this fantastic conception still stalks abroad. The Frenchman Lallemand (p. 161) saw in circumcision a useful cure "for involuntary seminal emissions", and for that reason himself introduced circumcision against pollutions.
Also according to Jacobus X ... the circumcised negro seems to tend less toward onanism than the uncircumcised. According to this author masturbation very seldom occurs among the Senegal negroes.
"The friction of the very sensitive mucous membrane of the glans of the circumcised organ requires a considerably longer time for a seminal ejaculation in copulation. Only the uncircumcised Senegal boy masturbates by drawing out the foreskin to a considerable length. But if he is circumcised he considers masturbation opprobrious; moreover he now has women enough to satisfy his sexual desires". (Karsch, p. 170.)
The statement that circumcised people do not masturbate or cannot even masturbate is absolutely false. Manustupration is wide-spread among the Jews (compare the blessing of the mohel,), the same is true of the Islamitic Indians, among whom it is called "jalakh" and is usually performed by plucking the frenulum about until the orgasm sets in, which circumcised Arians also do in Europe. Also a circumcised negro (Sebeyi) masturbated in my presence. Moreover, the Talmud forbids onanism in men and women. (Wunderbar, p. 27.) Danz, in his effort to disprove Sächtleben is guilty of exaggeration in the opposite direction when he maintains that circumcision even encourages manustupration. He makes the observation that "children who by nature had a short foreskin and relatively exposed glans become manustuprists".(1)
1) As a matter of fact, it was as a result of masturbation that they had drawn back the foreskin and exposed the glans. (B.)
He states that circumcision rather gives occasion for
onanism instead of preventing it. Salomon is of a similar opinion, and he was circumcised himself.
Salomon (p. 26) not only does not believe that masturbation is made impossible by circumcision, but that "on the contrary it is to be assumed that as a result of the greater accessibility of the denuded glans, and the stronger friction to which it is exposed, the sensation is intensified and onanism only furthered although the objection could again be made that the glans, having been exposed since childhood, must have suffered a considerable loss of sensitivity. However, the results, in respect to the prevalence of this evil, have shown no material advantages, and thus the law of circumcision seems to have no connection with onanism".
And now we have the suggestion propounded by Tessman (pp. 99-101), which is magical and based on a mimetic motive (like that of Philo): in this case the serpent. The negro or primitive man endeavored to make his sexual organ similar to the holy beast, with which he identified his penis.
"The religious motives for circumcision are more manifest, and, moreover, are advanced as arguments by many peoples. It is generally insisted by the Pangweh that better 'appearance' (1) had induced them to it, but how did they come to think it 'appeared' better, when the organ was circumcised? The answer may be derived from the thought of the 'first man' explained on page 26 to excuse his sexual sin with the serpent, and from the assumption that they wished to emphasize still more strongly the similarity between the penis and the serpent by means of circumcision. The old Jewish expression, that circumcision was a covenant with God, could be said to be most appropriate, for since God had sent the serpent, from whom all sin comes, there is actually a connection, a covenant set up between the two. Since they arise from
1) The negroes themselves here gave Tessman an esthetic motive (B.)
similar views, circumcision and cults coincide among many negroes, so that one may actually speak of circumcision festivals. Among the Pangweh this is not the case, circumcision being performed quite independently of the cults and in public".
According to Tessmann the serpent is simply the personification of
the penis, as can be seen from this Pangweh riddle:
1) Bitis nasicornis Shaw.
I called Tessmann's explanation magical because, just like primitive man, he concludes the origin, the motive, from the effect. The whole serpent cult may be derived from a similar prelogical combination On account of the external similarity of the serpent with the phallus they were often confused and the serpent cult could in this manner be connected with the phallus cult, of which it is the derivative and imitation; as a result of this it was believed that the ancestor slept in the serpent and visited the woman in this form: "One finds this conviction among the Nandi of Africa who kill snakes, but spare those that sleep near the bed(2) of a woman.
2) The Nandl do not sleep in a bed, but on cow-hides. (B.)
"It is always welcome and milk is offered it."(3) A pregnancy, that is, a birth is expected as a result of its visit". (Harnik, Rolett.)
3) When I sojourned among the Nandi for several months, the following was told about giant snakes, "If the serpent "gjalagvit" is given no beer, it devours people. If a moran (circumcised man) is going to the dance and catches sight of it at the root of a tree, he runs away. Then the old men (boyot) come with a pan of beer; it drinks up the beer, sleeps for two days and then goes its way." (B.)
Stekel (p. 111) remarks: "The serpent is perhaps the best known phallic symbol that there is. The word for penis in the primitive language of the Suaheli women
(German East Africa(1)) is the same as that of serpent".(2)
1) This has now become British East Africa. (Trans.)
2) Even today among the Italians lt is called now anguilla (eel), now serpente (serpent), now pesce (fish) (Majocchi, p. 443). (B .)
Stekel calls attention to a piece of sculpture from New Guinea in the Berlin Ethnological Museum that represents a woman out of whose vaginal orifice a small, round snake with a small head very much like a penis peeps out. (Stekel, p. 60.)
"This is probably the most frequent symbol of the penis, but it can also stand for the feminine genitalia, (p. 60.)
"The serpent is an exquisite masculine sex symbol and represents the phallus. It can also be used for the feminine organs, since all symbols are bi-sexual".
Modern oneiroscopy gives a phallic interpretation to dreams of snakes, which are no rarity among women.(3) (Stekel, p. 111.)
3) Stekel tells the case of a woman who was terrified by a very large snake (erect penis He states that the umbrella ( 1). 21) is also a phallic symbol, and that the broken or cut handle of an umbrella is an allusion to circumcision!
The erect penis has always had the effect of growing, fructifying life on the power and realm of human imagination and was therefore worshipped everywhere as the phallus. Circumcision is beyond doubt intimately bound up with this worship. Vatke, (p. 380) says: "Even circumcision could have emanated from the Syrian and Phoenician cult, or at least have become attached (4) to it very easily without the androgynous conception of the nature of the god having been fundamental. For since the sexual function was considered the main factor in the divine life, and the sexual organ, as the phallus cult shows, holy, there could easily have become attached to it the conception of total or partial sacrifice of it, and one need hardly assume that later circumcision was a substitute for previous customary castration, in the sense of the priests of Cybele or Rhea."
4) "The probable origin of circumcision can be determined only from a view fundamentally similar to this, since other motives, fruitfulness or cleanliness, cannot stand strict tests." 179
Further investigations have made valuable contributions not only in demonstrating the phallic cult among the Israelites, but also in showing that circumcision was dependent on it. Benzinger (p. 121) considers circumcision "a means whereby was expressed the concept of consecration to the life producing power of nature (Ishtar-Ashtoreth, Tammuz-Adonis, etc.). Consonant with this is the fact that among most peoples circumcision is connected with marriage. Also in Israel, it was originally not the children but the marriageable youths who were circumcised. (Joshua, 5, 2-9, Gen. 34, 4-25.) That is, it was originally in no way connected with the Yahweh cult among the Israelites".(1)
1) My emphasis. It is important that this discovery finally penetrate the consciousness of authors dealing with the material treated here, in order that once and for all the former speculative, uncritical statement of the monotheistic origin of circumcision be scrapped, and it be finally recognized that it obviously is derived from phallic worship. (B.)
We have already discussed the relations between the serpent and the prepuce, The Cabalists say: "The foreskin comes from the first serpent which seduced Adam and Eve". "The serpent shall eat earth. The foreskin is mecach hannachasch hakadmoni, i.e., of the power of the first serpent, therefore the foreskin must be given to the serpent again to eat". (Bodenschatz, p. 67.) -Also "to the tribe of Levi was ascribed extensive ophidian descent, and indeed, its totem was a serpent" (Majocchi, p. 443).
It is no matter of chance that it was the very tribe of Levi, which, according to Preuss, retained circumcision although the others had long before abolished it. More on the phallic cult of the Jews may be found in Delaure.
Karsch says on this (pp. 158-159): "According to H. H. Johnston's description the phallic cult is probably nowhere so open and general in Africa as it is at Stanley Pool. In the forests there are wonderful temples of straw and wood containing the phallic symbol. So far as the
guarantor could determine there were no really lascivious ceremonies connected with the phallic worship, at least the symbols were in the eyes of the natives mere objects of veneration. The boys taking part in initiation festivals are circumcised, and at the consecration, which is a phallic service, apparently only men are present. They are called inkimba, and are boys of fourteen and men to forty years of age. They form a sort of Freemason society in which there are certain pass-words or signs and also a kind of secret language, as in the case of certain Australian tribes".