Thursday, June 25, 2015


The following is excerpted from a book highly recommended by the Leveret: The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality by James B. Nelson.


In his suggestive book Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine, Eugene Monick explores the psychic and religious dimensions of the male experience of his phallus, his erect penis. Every male, he asserts, directly knows the meanings of erection: strength, hardness, determination, sinew, straightforwardness, penetration. Because erection is not fully under a man's conscious control, because the penis seems to decide on its own when, where, and with whom it wants erection and action, the phallus seems to be an appropriate metaphor for the masculine unconscious.

From time immemorial it has fascinated men. Numerous ancient expressions of phallic art and worship are well know, from the common representations on ancient Greek pottery, to the huge erections of the Cerne giant (carved in the first century B.C. by the Celts into a chalk hill in Dorset, England), to the modern-day Hindu cult of Shiva, where the phallus is an image of divinity. Beyond such outward evidences of religious veneration, men of every time and place have known a religious quality to their phallic experience. To adapt Rudolf Otto's words, it is the mysterium tremendum. Such encounters with the numinous produces responses of fascination, awe, energy, and a sense of the "wholly other." Through the phallus, men sense a resurrection, the capacity of the male member to return to life again and again after depletion. An erection makes a boy feel like a man and makes a man feel alive. It brings the assurance and substantiation of masculine strength.

Yet, as with other experiences of the holy, males feel ambivalent about the phallus. Erections must be hidden from general view. They are an embarrassment when they occur publicly. Men joke about erections with each other but cannot speak seriously. The secret is exposed only with another person in intimacy or when a male permits himself to experience his potency alone. If the mystery is exposed publicly, somehow the sacred has been profaned.

Furthermore, there is a double-sidedness to the phallic experience. One dimension is the earthy phallus. This is the erection perceived as sweaty, hairy, throbbing, wet, animal sexuality. In some measure it is Robert Bly's Iron John maleness. Men who have rejected this may be nice and gentle, but they seem to lack life-giving energy. Their keys remain hidden under the queen's pillow -- indeed, with the cooperation of the king, for the powers of social order always distrust the earthy phallus. And there is reason for distrust, because there can be an ugly, brutal side to the earthy phallus that uses others for gratification when this part of a man's sexuality does not find balance with other sides. Yet without the positive presence of earthy energy a man is bland. There is gentleness without strength, peacefulness without vitality, tranquility without vibrancy.

Men also experience the solar phallus. Solar (from the sun) means enlightenment. A man's erect penis represents to him all that stands tall. It is proud. The solar experience of erection puts a man in touch with the excitement of strenuous achievement. It is the Jacob's ladder and the mountain climb, which rise above the earthy and the earthly. It is the satisfaction of straining to go farther intellectually, physically, and socially. Solar phallus is transcendence. It is in the church steeples and skyscrapers that men are inclined to build. Solar phallus represents what most men would like to have noted in their obituaries. In Carl Jung's thinking, solar phallus is the very substance of masculinity. It is, he believed, logos, which transforms thought into word, just as eros (which he called feminine) transforms feeling into relatedness. I believe Jung misled us with his bifurcations of masculine and feminine principles, unfortunately grounding them in common gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, logos is an important part of the male experience both represented and invited by the solar phallus.

As with the earthy phallus, there is a shadow side to the experience of the solar phallus, too. It is the patriarchal oppression of those who do not "measure up." It is proving one's worth through institutional accomplishments. It is the illusion of strength and power that comes from position. It is the technical knowledge to dominate. It is political power which defends its ideological purity at virtually any price and then prides itself on standing tall in the saddle. It is addiction to the notion that bigger is better. The distortions of solar phallus are legion. Yet without its integral positive energy, a man lacks direction and movement. Without the urge to extend himself, he is content with the mediocre. Without the experience of the wholly other, life loses its self-transcendence.

Thus far I have agreed in broad outline with Monick's significant analysis: the importance of both the earthy and the solar phallus, their integration, and the dangers of their shadow sides. Here, however, Monick stops. He believes that phallus, the erect penis is the sacred image of the masculine. That seems to be enough. But it is not. Left there, I fear we are left with priapism.

In Roman mythology, Priapus, son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, was the god of fertility. His usual representations were marked by both by grotesque ugliness and an enormous erection. In human sexual disorders, priapism is the painful clinical condition of an erection that will not go down. Priapus and priapism are symbolic of the idolatry of the half-truth. Phallus, the erection, indeed is a vital part of the male's experience of his sexual organs. Hence, it is usually a vital part of his spirituality. But it is only part. Were it the whole thing, his sexuality and his spirituality would be painful and bizarre, both to himself and to others. That this in fact is too frequently the case is difficult to deny. Our phallic experience gives vital energy, both earthy and solar. But we also need the affirmative experience of the penis.

NEXT: Penis

See also the previous posts:
Rethinking the "Normal" Penis (Part I)
Rethinking the "Normal" Penis (Part II)
Not a Weapon or a Mere Tool
Standing Ovations
Morning Light – September 2, 2014
Morning Light – August 2, 2011
Morning Light – June 18, 2009
Bel Homme XXIX
Body and Soul

Images: Subjects and photographers unknown.

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