Experts have been unable to understand the origin of the practice of routine male circumcision. Most of the literature shows no awareness of phimosis - its frequency - or the sexual and erectile problems which can be cured by circumcision. If routine circumcision had been introduced for this most obvious reason of eliminating difficult foreskins; then the importance of an alternative modern method, suitable to our culture's attitudes in this day and age, would be clear.

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"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

Full Index
Part One
Page 92 - 120
p. 92
p. 95
p. 100
p. 103
p. 104
p. 105
p. 106
p. 107
p. 110
Introduction - Philos 6 points
1 - gonorrhoea
2 - smegma, hygiene
3 - imitate the heart
4 - numerous offspring
5 - to control passion
6 - to encourage humility before God
The foreskin as trophy
Sacrifice.. (Blood.- cult ...psychology)
S. 71
S. 75
S. 80
S. 83
S. 84
S. 84
S. 86
S. 86
S. 89

p. 92 - 93


The explanations of the purpose and cause of circumcision, here quoted in detail for comparison, furnish a splendid example of the versatility of human extravagant imagination, and are, at the same time, a document of the ambivalent validity of casuistic argumentation. Consequently the explanations of this still enigmatical operation often not only supplement, but contradict one another in every way. As a few examples will demonstrate: the purpose of circumcision is to make masturbation impossible (Sachtleben) or the contrary, it favors masturbation (Salomon); it leads to pederasty, or it is a preventive against it (Risa); it makes people virtuous or the opposite; it has been introduced for the refining of the sexual act, etc., etc.

The problem of circumcision is stated and answered according to the subjective attitude of the author or the peoples in question, and there is probably no crasser contrast in the evaluation of this custom than when, on the one side, it is praised as something well-nigh divine, and on the other, rejected as being somewhat barbaric (Levit). However this is not primarily a matter of ethical judgement, which would only cloud the main issue; the question may only be put as: how did man arrive at the idea of mutilating his penis, and why? What was the first incentive for it? It is of uncommon interest for the psychologist to learn how gradually with the spread and development of circumcision, the general conception of its nature changed and incidental motives entirely pushed aside the original incentive. This brings us no nearer the main issue. However, one must know the various conceptions before he can attempt to answer our question. I therefore quote the various authors in historical sequence. I begin with Philo, the Hellenistic Jew of the first century of our era.

Philo gives "several reasons for inducing the maintenance of this old custom", especially four: "First, in order to prevent a serious and malignant disease, which - from the burning pains and inflammation, I surmise it to be gonorrhoea - is called carbuncle, a disease which the uncircumcised succumb to more easily.

"Second, on account of the complete cleanliness of the body, which beseems the priestly order, for which reason also, the highest Egyptian priests attended to their bodies with great care, for underneath the hair as well as underneath the foreskin, dirt collects and remains, which must be removed.

"Third, in order that this circumcised part have a certain similarity to the heart, for both organs serve to procreate. For the spirit that dwells in the heart is an organ of perception just as are the genitalia of animals. Therefore the ancients considered it right to make this visible part, which is the fountain of physical perceptions, similar to that hidden, nobler part, which is the fountain of spiritual perceptions.

"The fourth reason, and the most cogent, is the care for fruitfulness and numerous offspring. For they say that the semen is ejaculated without hindrance(1) and does not lose itself in the folds of the foreskin: thus are the circumcised nations mighty in fruitfulness and the most populous. These are the reasons that have come to

1) Bastide tells of a case of sterility that was cured by the operation of circumcision. (Rawitzki in Glasberg, p. XVIII.) (B.)

p. 94

my ears, handed down by divine men, who have diligently studied the teachings of Moses.

"But besides the reasons given for circumcision, I think I ought to give two more on account of their great importance: first, the excision of the passions, which bind the mind. For since among all passions that of intercourse between man and woman is greatest, the lawgivers have commanded that the instrument which serves this intercourse, be mutilated, pointing out that these powerful passions must be bridled, and thinking that not only this, but all passions would be controlled through this one. Second, in order that they thus be advised to know themselves and discard arrogance, that grave disease of the soul. Many boast themselves to be creators, to a certain extent, in that they can create man, the fairest of animals, and proud of this, declare themselves gods, even by denying God as the author of all creation. And yet they could correct this error if they looked at the other things they make use of. For many men among them are sterile (and many women unfruitful), who have grown old, childless through feeble intercourse. This perverse idea must be rooted out of the soul, as also everything else that is in any way opposed to piety".

What is noteworthy in this work of Philo, which is, not only one of the first attempts at an explanation of the history of circumcision, but which also raises a great number of stimulating thoughts on the question, is, that Philo is conscious of the fact that he gives us nothing on the motive, the reason for circumcision, but only the reason for its retention. He speaks of a custom that is already old, which he presents as already given: he puts before us a fait accompli, exactly as the Old Testament does: "Go, and circumcise the flesh of your foreskin". But what the sense of circumcision is, why it is the penis that is chosen to be the bearer of the sign of the covenant with

p. 95 God, perhaps only Abraham knew. At least Philo does not.

We shall now discuss separately each of the six points for the retention of the custom of circumcision which Philo emphasizes.

Philo: point I.
The first point of the explanation, as well as the others, does not concern itself with the discovery of the reason, but relates rather the sanitary consequences of the operation, and thus treats of the uses resulting from it. This conception, which according to Trusen (p. 118) contradicts the spirit of the Bible, since such a cause is not mentioned there (1), is today the most wide spread and is especially popular among physicians. Collin (p. 9) maintains the usefullness of circumcision consist in:
a) Prevention of paraphimosis and phimosis.
b) Prevention of gonorrhoea of the glans.
c) The glans, because of its early denudation, loses its too great sensitivity, through which latter pollution and onanism easily arise. This sensitivity is also often conditioned by an irritated condition of the smegma, which involuntarily necessitates friction.
d) Lesser susceptibility to syphilis. What part morality plays here is uncertain.
e) The circumcised man never runs the risk of bleeding as a result of the rupture of the ligament of the foreskin, which often happens during coitus.
f) Diseases of the glans, etc. are easier to recognize and to treat.

(1) Trusen writes, "Also circumcision, if it owed its origin to this cause would certainly have disappeared long ago among the Jews, who in later times were dispersed throughout all climates of the earth, through the observation that other peoples, who did not practice it, were not exposed to greater dangers of local diseases of the foreskin: for such random and always only sporadic and transient ailments of the foreskin, such as Gonorreah, phimosis and paraphimosis, as well as the rupture of the ligament do not demand such a generally practiced preventative measure, which, moreover could be justified only for that tropical climate and is by no means without danger to the infant organism."

This fine list of advantages resulting from circumcision has also caused physicians to propagate general circum

p. 96

cision for non-Jewish also, both in Europe and America (Remondino).

Sampoerno has recently shown that at least carcinoma of the penis cannot be prevented by circumcision. Among 78 carcinomes of Javanese men seven cancers of the penis were determined. Sampoerno says, "The view that circumcision is a protection against carcinoma of the penis is untenable, since the Javanese, like the Jews, regularly perform circumcision as a rite". Bloch (p. 421) substantiates the effect of circumcision on the resistance or even immunity of the penis to venereal diseases as follows: "If the foreskin has been removed by circumcision, then secretion ceases and the mucous membrane of the glans becomes a tough skin, less accessible to irritations and agents of infections. There is no doubt that circumcision is, to a certain extent, a protection against syphilitic infection, but it does not, however, prevent gonorrhoea".

From this point of view, and not unjustly, Rosenzweig calls it, "a wise, sanitary-police measure".

But one must have a pretty poor knowledge of the mentality of primitive man, to think seriously for one moment that hygienic motives moved him to introduce and make obligatory a general preventive measure. There can be no doubt that even in the dark beginnings of time, surgical interventions were carried out on the foreskin on medical grounds, then it is certain even in those times, that congenital phimosis(1) occurred manifesting in the manner, that physiologically, the inner blade of the foreskin did not release from the glans or the opening of the foreskin was so narrow, that the prepuce could never be retracted behind the glans. Additionally acquired phimosis and phimosis of old-age must have received operative removal

p. 97

in those days, as in today`s healing practice. According to Schepelmann a longitudinal cut (incisio) is often sufficient, resulting in an "apron formation"; in the case of infants sometimes all that is necessary is simply "manual extension".

(1 )Busch has given us a detailed description of phimosis and its removal by operation. He maintains that, "Since among the Orientals phimosis is almost a national characteristic, Moses made circumcision a religious prescription and Mohammed also retained this prescription for the professors of Islam."

I would even go as far as to assumethat the first circumcision on Earth took place out of purely medical grounds, and it is a moot point whether this answer first dawned on Stoneage man or the Egyptians (as Ebers would have it). However, it contradicts the primitive way of thinking to anchor this occasional operation in the cultural practice. I refer, among others, to Eylmann.

Eylmann (pp. 119-120) discusses first the hygienic uses of circumcision: "In respect to circumcision it is usually not difficult to find an answer. As among peoples of other parts of the world, the frequent inflammation of the inner membrane of the foreskin and the glans (balanoposthitis) is said to have been the reason among the aborigines of Australia for removing the foreskin, in order thus to prevent the collection of the sebaceous secretion. For this secretion, when it decomposes, easily becomes so irritating to the mucous membranes that they become inflamed. This explanation does not satisfy me. The inflammation appears most frequently the first few years(2) after the beginning of sexual maturity, but by no means often; and it causes severe pains only when the foreskin is so narrow that the pus cannot find its way out. Under certain conditions, however, it must be mentioned, it leads to a severe swelling of the foreskin (inflamed phimosis and paraphimosis). But as a result of frequent coition the foreskin is materially enlarged, so that it may be pulled back with the greatest ease. Moreover, in many men it is ex-

p. 98-99

ceptional for it to cover the glans. The time during which its presence causes any disadvantage worth mentioning, if I may so put it, is accordingly very short. Cases of the sort where the opening is so small, that making love causes pain, and even urinating is not easy occur so seldomly that our discussion does not need to take them into consideration.

"These are the reasons why I answer no to the question: Is it probable that a primitive people, like the Australians, who are much less sensitive to bodily pain than we are, were prompted to introduce, because of relatively trivial, and not especially frequently occurring pains, a custom through which in the end, more pain and discomfort were caused than by the original malady?

"In my opinion this mutilation of the penis is a kind of token of membership in the society of men and the pain caused by its performance serves, as many other tortures before the declaration of manhood, to make the youths blind tools of the elders by intimidation. That this token was not established in any other place should not surprise us since, indeed, the masculine and feminine genitalia enjoy a greater measure of attention than most other parts of the body among all peoples. Moreover, many a person, be he member of a civilized or primitive people, must have come to the conclusion that the foreskin was a superfluous creation for the adult when he saw that it always surrounded the glans in children, but in men often left it entirely bare, and that it then had the appearance of being shrunken and in the process of disappearing. In addition there is the fact that the sexual organ stands in a certain relation to the attainment of manhood, for through it the youth receives the qualification for marriage.

"I have based what I have said above on the assumption that the custom of removing the foreskin has arisen in the land with no outside influence. Naturally it is not impossible that strangers introduced it or that the ancestors of the Australian natives had already adopted it from other peoples before they migrated to the fifth continent. But even in such cases its origin would not be drastically different from that which has been assumed; for among many primitive peoples initiations of young men take place which in many respects are very similar to those of the Australians". . .

(1) "A people so eminently talented in medicine as the Egyptians were exceptionally well fitted to invent such a wholesome measure as that of circumcision." (!)

(2) The correctness of this statement is still to be proved. An inflammation appears rather, in case there is no phimosis, only in children who have not yet denuded their glans , I have observed only one ease of paraphimosis in Central Africa: the patient was at most five years old. This was among the Margoli; a mother showed us her whimpering child, whose bared Penis had a very inflamed glans with the foreskin drawn back. (B.)

Christ also is said to have been convinced of the medicinal-hygienic purpose of circumcision, as concluded by interpreters from the following passage: "If a man may receive the circumcision on the Sabbath in order that the law of Moses be not broken, wherefore are ye wroth with me that I have made a man whole on the Sabbath"? Here Christ contrasts the healing of the whole body with circumcision; circumcision - it is argued - according to the view of Christ is to heal only a single member, the penis. (Salomon, pp. 22-23.)

Josephus Flavius tells of the fatal consequences of surgical treatment of the inflamed member in the case of the Egyptian Apian as a result of gonorrhoea of the glans and infection: "Therefore Apion seems to me to have justly suffered a fitting punishment for deriding the laws of his country, for necessity had forced him to be circumcised since a swelling arose on his genital (his glans), and since the circumcision was unsuccessful, but rather putrescence set in, he died amid terrible pains." (Salomon, p. 23.)

To discard the whole hypothesis of the prophylactic purpose of circumcision just because this operation has proved itself to be ineffectual against venereal

p. 100-101

diseases, is inacceptable: how many cures are absolutely false or unsuccessful and still were introduced originally for medicinal reasons! And so when Sudhoff today makes the introduction of circumcision dependent upon hygienic reasons, whether syphilis was indigenous in the old world or whether it was introduced from America: in the first case sees it in a causal connection, and in the second, if syphilis was imported from America, discards it; this whole manner of reasoning shows what little regard was shown for the prelogical thinking of primitive man . . . and with what seriousness this hypothesis of prophylactic expediency is to be taken!

(1)This argumentation seems to be forced. Circumcision and healing do not at all have to be taken as antitheses here. Circumcision is not performed on one who is sick in order to make him whole. - among the Jews sick children may not be circumcised at all. The passage in question then ought to be understood as follows: lf circumcision may be practised on the Sabbath, which affects only a part of the body, how much more rather ought the healing of the whole body to be allowed on the Sabbath?

Sudhoff writes: "That the circumcision of the Jews was taken over from the Egyptians has been established today beyond doubt; likewise, that its origin for both nations was the interior of Africa. Naturally, that would not deprive it of its objective significance, as little as it could be denied of any other custom that had its roots in a totally different order of ideas, therefore, its influence in the hygienic sphere can be denied, because its subjective hygienic imprint has worn off. But the hygienic significance of the circumcision of man in antiquity becomes nil as soon as the non-existence of syphilis in the old world before Columbus, which is generally accepted today, is proved. To suggest Congenital malformations such as phimosis as an argument for routine male circumcision, to shift the question to another area (1) No one has yet proclaimed that the circumcision of women, which has arisen in the same cultic environment, to be a hygienic measure. That the Jews did not adopt this Egyptian temple custom is easily explained by the fact that at that time woman played no part in the temple cult; indeed, she was not even allowed to enter the temple: but it is still a question whether there was a period in the history of the people of Israel when only the priestly tribe was circumcised, or whether the circumcision of the whole nation was to signify its priestly character".

1) Sudhoff acrobatically swerves between the "hygienic significance" of "syphilis in the old world before Columbus," - to - the "circumcision of women" but manages to slip in a sentance about phimosis - the audacity of this rejection is incomparable! (RS.)

Philo: point II.
This coincides with the first insofar as it likewise refers to hygienic treatment, that of keeping the glans clean. It is therefore only a question of a detail: that of the possibility of the decomposition of the smegma. The smegma, previously considered to be a glandular secretion, but now shown by Stickler to consist of sloughed off fatty epithelial cells, may easily cause inflammation since it harbors a plentiful fauna of microbes - 25 varieties have already been demonstrated (Eberth) - for which it furnishes a suitable medium. From this there arises in warm countries, "especially in the sun, a pathological secretion of a fatty, noisome substance on the genitalia which is capable of irritating them and causing eruptions and morbid emanations from them". (Terquem, p. 6.)

It is possible also as a result of the hardening of collected smegmatic, epithelial cells in the pocket of the prepuce, for stones of the foreskin to be formed, cacluli praeputiales, which are not possible if the glans is kept clean through circumcision.

As in the rejection of the explanation of the first point, the hygienic reason for the idea of circumcision in this second must also be rejected, in spite of the obvious advantages given as arguments (Eylmann, Sudhoff). I quote Risa as a typical advocate of the hygienic conception of the fundamental idea behind circumcision.

"The presence of the prepuce does not allow the member to be kept thoroughly clean. The consequences of this uncleanliness, which manifest themselves especially in warm climates, are well known in their usual form as balanitis and balanoposthitis together with the resultant conditions. These are not only local pathological disturbances like inflamed phimosis as such, the formation of preputial stones, pointed condylomes, adherences be-

p. 102-103

tween glans and prepuce, retention of urine with its reaction upon the bladder and kidneys, etc., but especially do they affect the physical as well as the social spheres: the irritation which is caused by the inflammation of the distal part of the penis leads to erection and release through ejaculation, to enuresis, to onanism and pederasty with their psycho-pathological reactions, and finally to moral crimes".

A wise Moslem writer says: "It is exactly these fundamental effects and their influence upon men that the Moslem lawgivers take into consideration in establishing the strict performance of circumcision".

These are the fearful consequences of the presence of the prepuce of the state of uncircumcision as they have been described for us by the Turkish physician Nuri Bey (Risa, p. 586) in his purposeful exaggeration. First involuntary erection, then pederasty, and finally moral crimes! That's quite Dantesque! What a picture we must get of the morals of the uncircumcised with such perspective! Just think of the uncircumcised African tribes, situated like dispersed islands amid the surrounding circumcised, or of us Europeans. We hear further that, "the pain of stretching and rupturing the ligament during coitus diminishes the sexual pleasure and hinders its fulfillment. Of greater importance is the influence on the woman. Among the circumcised certain changes take place in the skin of the glans, especially in the corpuscles of Kraus, which lessen the sensitivity of the glans; but when the glans is covered by the prepuce it is much more sensitive, even when it is not stimulated to excess by inflammation, as has been mentioned above, and thus during coitus ejaculation in the uncircumcised results much sooner, often before sexual feeling in the woman has reached its climax. Even if it is certain that this is not absolutely necessary for the inception of gravidity, still it certainly favors it and especially makes the woman more desirous of repetition, thereby increasing the possibility of success. The duration of coitus and consequently sexual feeling in the woman is thus increased among those who are circumcised. It is well known that among certain negro tribes the women demand circumcision of the men for this very reason and give themselves only to men who are circumcised" (1).

1) Even if this reason (which 1 do not know of) is true, the refusal of women to give themselves to men who are not circumcised is based on quite different motives than Risa (p. 588) gives. The uncircumcised belongs to another tribe and prohibitions or another adopted custom would already be sufficient to call forth in the negress the aversion emphasized by Risa. (B.)

A pious Musselman told Risa: "The reduction of sexual pleasure is just what circumcision aims at. Too great sexual excitement puts man on an equal plane with the lower animals, impels him to wicked moral aberrations and tragic crime. On the other hand, the complete abolition of sexual feeling would make men non-organic beings. In all things moderation is best. We men enjoy coitus just enough".

"The other objections as well which have been made against circumcision, the outbreak of metritis as a result of lengthy coitus, neuralgia, localized on the uncovered glans, painful erections as a result of the scar, cicatrized paraphimosis, easy susceptibility to chancre , etc. are weak, since they simply do not apply if the circumcision is performed lege artis. And also the objection that deficient sensitivity of the glans leads to pederasty falls down when one considers that at least to an equal extent the uncircumcised peoples around the Mediterranean are subject to this vice." (2)

2) Here Risa contradicts himself We learned earlier that uncircumcision led to pederasty; now it is admitted that the circumcised is just as much subject to homo-erotic practices as the uncircumcised. (B.) 103

Philo: point III
Here use and motive are not confused. Whether Philo's argument is convincing or whether it is instigated by a direct, naive conception makes no difference; what Philo

p. 104

presents here is really a motive: to give the penis (or its glans) a plastic appearance similar to that of a model - in this case the heart. That is, a mimetic motive. Even if the model chosen is to be sought in a doctrinaire-ethical world of conception, in itself presupposing a very high spiritual culture, one which could not possibly have coincided in point of time with the introduction of the custom of circumcision, still there is in the whole train of thought a very plausible argument which we later find spontaneously expressed by other authors (Tessman, Bryk). It was not the heart that was to be imitated, nor was it meant to be, but rather the phallus (the erected penis).

Philo: point IV.
Philo designates that as "summa necassaria causa": the solicitude for fruitfulness and numerous offspring. Being circumcised Philo does not know the function of the foreskin during copulation or he would not maintain that among uncircumcised the semen was lost in the folds of the foreskin. The conception that the circumcised are far more fruitful than the uncircumcised is also to be found in many later authors. Wolfsteiner has even devoted a whole disputation to this question; with Spencer he maintains that "gentem circumcisam ad sobolem procreandam magis esse idoneam quam christianam" (p. 21), but the reason for this he sees primarily in the fact that the Jews marry at an earlier age.

Flatt already doubts the correctness of this fourth point: "that the custom of circumcision has been favored by the opinion (in itself, however, unfounded) of the wholesome influence of the same on the health of the body and especially on fruitfulness". (v. Autenrieth, p. 55.)

If all circumcised people are more fruitful than the uncircumcised, which still remains to be proved, it does not at all follow, as points I and II have likewise clearly shown us, that circumcision owes its origin to this useful

p. 105

effect. Rather the fruitfulness of the circumcised lies in their specialization of the sexual technique and in the regulation of the sexual instinct: the possibility of conception thereby becomes more probable.

This was also seen by Dubois Reymond: therefore the Jews owe their superiority over the Christians to the removal of the prepuce and to their sensible regulation of the sexual life during and before marriage . . ." and for that reason he demanded obligatory circumcision among Christians.

In this case again Philo concludes the motive for circumcision from its effect, its use.

Philo: point V.
The removal of the foreskin removed the sinful passions at the same time. 1 do not know that the circumcised are any less sensual than the uncircumcised; the well known Turkish harem does not in any way impress us by its abstinence. On the contrary, the sensual factor is emphasized by circumcision; the sexual act is only refined.

The famous Jewish physician, Maimonides, held similar views to those expressed by Philo in points IV. V, and VI. "The bridling of the sexual instinct which impels especially the peoples of warmer climates to perversion; moderation and chastity, these seem to have been main purposes of the commandment of circumcision."

1 Pure imagination which does not fit the facts. (B.)

Nossig appeals to Maimonides, who says the following in his glorification of Jewish morality: "I believe one of the reasons for circumcision was the diminution of sexual intercourse and the weakening of the sexual organs; its purpose was to restrict the activities of this organ and to leave it at rest as much as possible. The true purpose of circumcision was to give the sexual organ that kind of physical pain as not to impair its natural function or the potency of the individual, but to lessen the power of


passion and of too great desire. An organ that is bled after birth and its covering removed, is undoubtedly weakened". (Maimonides, Moreh Nebuchim, III Chap. XLIX.)

Maimonides motivates his whole untenable argument with a quotation from the Talmud, (Bereschith rabba, Sec. 80, f. 70, col. 3): "A (Jewish) woman who has associated in love with one uncircumcised can leave him only with difficulty (1)". "And this is in my opinion the most important cause for circumcision". Thus Maimonides concludes his observations.

1) Quite different factors are involved here; for often Aryan women, who have associated with men who are circumcised. cannot leave them. (B.)

Other physicians, like Fallopius, have also subscribed to this reasoning on the purpose of circumcision: "For this very reason circumcision has been prescribed by God, lest the people indulge overmuch in the pleasure of love, and religion, divided by these pleasures, be neglected". (Wolfsheimer, p. 28.)

Consequently it was a universal conception that circumcision curbed sensuality, a conception that was later proved false. The ethical factor, which Moses, Philo and Maimonides conceived to be the original motive for circumcision as a result of the removal of their passions, is not at all denied as having been present, but it could only have caused it among highly specialized cultures, such as the Israelitic, but not among primitive peoples, who are absolutely dominated by the phallic demon, who invented circumcision and from whom the old Israelites adopted it, either directly or indirectly.

Philo: point VI.
Religious fear of God, which postulates control of animal instincts. Shifting of the act of creation from one's self to a divine being. That is, in a certain sense, a seal,


which in the prelogical mode of reasoning of totems is part of its transmissions. This ascetic feature is also present in the idea of consecration, to a certain extent, as has been maintained by later mythologists.

Of the Church Fathers, Sedulius (between 400 and 440 A. D.) gives a similar explanation, saying that circumcision is necessary for pure procreation and sexual reproduction. (Glasberg, p. 220.)

Quite an original explanation has been suggested by von Autenrieth, who derives the origin of circumcision from the barbaric phallic custom of certain peoples who bring home the genitalia of killed or even living enemies as an infallible trophy of victory, but who, in order to avoid suspicion that these signs of victory might have been plundered from their own dead, have adopted this means of making certain. That is, a strategic sign of recognition, similar to the white band of the cap of the fictitious enemy during manoeuvres.

The penis (as symbol of manliness) is more easily brought home than other extremities of the enemy, such as skull, scalp, arms, hands. Marie Bonaparte (pp, 25-26) has given full particulars on the diffusion of this ancient war custom, especially in East Africa. This custom of phallotomy has not yet been completely extirpated even among us in Europe. Kraus writes: "'Montenegrins are accustomed to castrate their prisoners during campaigns and carry their penises with them as amulets. Many a warrior has a whole string of such amulets. The bandit wars of Macedonia, which for years have been taxing Europe's diplomatic art to the utmost, would probably long have died out if the occasional victors ceased from the fatal custom of mutilating their captured enemies and thus causing innumerable campaigns of revenge. Sicilian myths also mention similar mutilations". (Dulaure, p. 184.)

"Everywhere, among quite separate peoples, circum-


cision, insofar as it is an indigenous custom, appears in connection with the practice of cutting away the genitalia of conquered enemies in order thus to prove beyond doubt one's own prowess in battle." (Autenrieth, p. 38.) It is worth while to contrast the opinion of Zaborowski:
"II n'y pas une preuve, en effet, ni dans l'histoire de l'Egypte, ni dans les livres sacrés des Juifs et des Chrétiens, qu'une liaison quelconque ait d,abord existé entre la phallotomie et la circoncision." .

That phallotomy was known in Egypt we learn from the tomb of Osymandrios, on which, together with a great number of chopped-off hands, there are also represented many severed, uncircumcised masculine organs. (Autenrieth.) This custom was also not unknown to the Israelites. There is King Saul's command that David bring him a hundred foreskins' of the Philistines, which David promptly did. No one can deny that a certain connection exists between primitive warfare and phallotomy, and, likewise between circumcision and the warrior caste. But it is false reasoning to conclude that there is therefore a causal nexus between phallotomy and circumcision. The greatest ignominy that can be done to man is and always was, to deprive him of his organ of procreation. Castration as punishment is still customary today among many peoples (Czekanowski, Hartmann, Pelikan); indeed, it is known to have been practiced by single individuals in the civilized nations of Europe as an act of revenge. I mention only the horrible case of post-war times in south Sweden where a girl, with the help of her mother, castrated her fiance because he had broken his promise to marry her. But she later married the man, though he was missing

1) This is obviously a case of pars pro toto; undoubtedly the word foreskin is to be taken to mean "uncircumcised penis" also. I doubt whether the old Israelites meant praeputium when they spoke of the "foreskin" This morphogical difference was certainly unknown at that time. God speaks to Abraham of the "flesh of the foreskin" What is meant apparently is the tip (flesh) of the skin covering (foreskin) or that of the uncircumcised penis.

p. 109

his organ of procreation.

Sadism may also impel a woman to castration.
"Castration and mutilation by women of enemy soldiers on battle-fields or by revolutionists after barricade battles are hardly to be conceived of as murders purely for the pleasure of it. Sexual lust is hardly an impelling motive, but rather political fanaticism. That it is the sexual parts themselves of the dying enemy that are attacked is probably the result of a vague feeling of revenge on the part of the depraved woman against that very organ of the powerless man that usually causes so much trouble among them; it may also be true that sexual emotions are aroused and relieved by the performance of these sadistic acts". (Wullfen.)

We shall return to phallotomy in connection with the suggested psycho-analytical explanation of circumcision. Since the age of manhood is also a prerequisite for eligibility for military service and, as a rule (or originally), only marriageable youths are circumcised, the concept of the state of being circumcised would seem to coincide with that of the warrior. And consequently, among many East African tribes, the young man, from the day of his circumcision on is called "el moran" or "moreniu" (Nandi, Massai, Suk, Elkoyni, Kikuyu). But the "strategic sign," as Autenrieth calls circumcision, became devoid of meaning on the day when circumcised enemy opposed circumcised friend on the field of battle and the sign of differentiation ceased to exist. Fundamentally, circumcision, in the conception of Autenrieth, is only a special case of social differentiation.

According to Herbert Spencer there is likewise a connection between circumcision and strategy as a "sign of submission, in order to abolish the death penalty of conquered warriors". (Hastings, p. 666.)

The conception is very widespread that circumcision is performed as a sign of consecration or even as a sub-


stitute for sacrifice. Trusen summarizes this interpretation of the custom of circumcision as follows: "Meiners, Boettiger and Vatke agree in this: that circumcision is to be considered a survival of ancient human sacrifice, the consecration of a part of the body instead of all of it.

"This unnatural principle was assigned to the highest nocturnal star, Saturn, just as the quickening creative power was attributed to the sun god. Man wanted to consecrate himself to God to be sure of his protection. The completest form of consecration was complete sacrifice. But in order not to have to perform this, the noblest part of the body, the organ of procreation was offered up, which was especially holy to the creative power of Nature. The facility with which one could thus consecrate himself to God in time disseminated circumcision throughout whole cities and peoples. Moses did not circumcise his own son, who had to be coerced into circumcision by Jehovah, but at the time of David it was already a general custom, as may be gathered from the hundred foreskins of the Philistines. It is significant that even today a large taper must be burning during the circumcision and the severed foreskin is not always buried in dust or sand but among many congregations is also burnt, indicating sacrifice. Circumcision was performed also on that day on which the first-born were to be offered up, namely, the eight day. This day was chosen only in order that the circumcision might be brought into the closest connection with the sacrifice of the child. It is only through circumcision that life, which belongs to Jehovah, is represented to the boy. At the conclusion of the ceremony the rabbi dips his finger into a goblet of wine, puts it into the mouth of the child and says, "God has spoken unto thee: live!" He also sucks the blood out of the wound and it is used for washing: a survival of priests' besmearing themselves with the blood of sacrifice; the first being also a survival of reconciliation with God.


In order to make it less obnoxious, the water into which it trickels is boiled with narcotic ingredients. In rabbinical writings, as well, circumcision is very clearly conceived of as being a substitute for a real sacrifice and the same effect is ascribed to the blood of circumcision as to the blood of sacrifice. The covenant of circumcision is observed equally with all sacrifices. Abraham lays all the foreskins of his household in a heap, the odor of the decaying skins mounted like the odor of spice, like incense on the fire, to holy God. Modern rabbis also see in circumcision an attempt to replace human sacrifice with milder adaptations.

"We also are decidedly of the latter opinion, far from agreeing with the views of those who profanely interpret the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, sacred to us Christians, that circumcision is a purely human invention for the furtherance of social purposes and that it has only a physical benefit for the peoples of the Orient. We consider it rather to be a highly ingenious-religious transformation of human sacrifice that was generally customary up to Abraham's time, the consecration of a part of the body instead of the whole of it. Born at Ur in Chaldea about 2000 B.C., Abraham, already in the house of his father Terah, always kept clear of the idolatry that prevailed there and remained untainted by it, and in this aversion to idolatry and human sacrifice so early and firmly rooted in him is to be found, it seems, the germ of that divine inspiration which, purposing the abolition of human sacrifice, was also to be a covenant to consecrate himself and his whole people to the Eternal, and to prevent his race, now called consecrated, from mingling with other peoples. Even if, when introducing circumcision as an act of sacrifice, Abraham kept the idea of the abolition of human sacrifice in mind, it is not surprising that he was ready later himself to offer up his son Isaac according to a divine inspiration, since it seemed necessary as a


sacrifice of reconciliation for the enraged god-head in order to give his wavering people definite proof of self-sacrifice and to strengthen it in the worship and will of Jehovah. But we find our view confirmed all the more when we notice that the foundation of the whole Egyptian religion, namely, fructifying nature, which was especially manifest in the worship of Isis, was known to the Jews, and, though in another form, was worshipped by them. The capitals of Egyptian monuments symbolize in two ritual orders of pillars the foundation of the whole Egyptian religion, namely, fructifying nature: the first order represents the erect phallus, as the symbol of the power of procreation, the other form, by its capital, represents the vulva, as the symbol of conception, both with the glans and lotus calyx, by analogy with the human genitalia. The rite of the Egyptian Isis cult demanded especially the veneration of the then not indecent morion as the symbol of organic life, but also contained the union of woman with the cunning serpent, and likewise, as Moses' allegory of the temptation of Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit may have passed into the Bible from here, it is not improbable that Abraham earlier also, with respect to the Isis cult and out of the very veneration of the symbol of all organic life, derived the circumcision of his people as an act of sacrifice, in order to substitute for the consecration of the whole body the consecration of its noblest part. Among the Israelites circumcision was therefore universal since the whole nation was to be priestly". (pp. 121-124: Trusen, J. P.)

According to Ghillany "human sacrifice was a prevailing part of the worship in the religion of the ancient Hebrews and the original god was Molech, to whom all first born male children had to be sacrificed. With the appearance of the Jehovah cult the sacrifice of boys was prohibited, and in commemoration of it circumcision in-


troduced, to be considered a substitution for human sacrifice".

The idea of human sacrifice was abrogated by circumcision. Nork also expresses a similar view: "The Jehovah cult, or the Israelitic religion, is differentiated from the idols mentioned (Molech) only in that it sought to substitute for the veneration of the phallus, i e., the adoration of the creator in the masculine organ, the commandment of circumcision".

Meiners (p. 467) is more concrete, since he was able more easily to derive circumcision from an ancient custom of blood sacrifice: "New born children were wounded on all parts of the body in reconciliation with the gods, especially on the organs of procreation (because these were considered the tools of existence and the birth of children), most of all on the foreskin, because this could be cut and mutilated with the least danger."

Later (p. 479) he says: "Among most peoples(1), the children were circumcised shortly after birth, among others, however, about the time, or shortly before the time, of puberty. As I have shown, the maturity and marriage of children were considered happy events, at which, as well as at their birth, the gods were to be propitiated".

1) Quite a vague statement. (B.)

Bottger (p. 55, (2)) supports Meiner's view, but in addition deduces his "ceterum censeo" from this cult of sacrifice: ". . . everything is connected with the phallus". I could adduce still other authors who consider circumcision to be a partial substitute for the former bloody sacrifice of children, but would only be repeating the same ideas in another form, an idea which, unfortunately, is based on the false premise that originally infants or small children were sacrificed; this premise being derived from the highly specialized custom of circumcision among the Israelites. Now all authors today, even the theo-


logians, know well that circumcision of infants is a derivative of the original circumcision of youths consequently all speculations on the substitution idea of child sacrifice, at least in this form, as defended by the mythologists quoted, fall to the ground. The idea of sacrifice does not therefore have to be denied, but it had nothing to do with the original custom of circumcision, however in time it may have attained major significance and displaced the original sense of the custom.

But for America, where, apparently, circumcision was not introduced from the outside, but arose independently, the sacrifice idea may be considered the motive for circumcision, because there its relations to its rites are quite different from those of the old world.

Andree II, pp. 161-162: "The view that the abscission of the foreskin is a sacrifice for the gods, indeed, even a substitution for human sacrifice, has repeatedly been expressed, and seems, at least for America, to be not unfounded. The blood taken from any part of the body was smeared by the high priests of Yucatan and Nicaragua on the representations of the gods, exactly like the blood of human sacrifice with which the temple doors and statutes were smeared in Peru. In Yucatan and Nicaragua and down to the Oronoco, sometimes the tongue and sometimes the genitalia were thus circumcised; among the Totonagas the ears and genitalia; in Nicaragua the blood from the sexual organs was sprinkled on maize, which was then distributed and consumed amid great solemnities. Among the Aztecs an incision was simply made in the breast of the one-year old boy or girl at the chief festival of Huitzilopochtli, whereupon he (or she) became consecrated to the god".

I would like to derive the blood rite, which is still to be perceived here and there in the circumcision ceremonies of the old world, from motives similar to those which Andree gives, but in many cases it arises from


quite another world of ideas than the original conception of circumcision: which it later became amalgamated with. Even among the Jews, in spite of their well-known dread of blood, this blood rite is clearly preserved. Thus Bergson relates (p. 103), and we heard from Trusen, incredible dictu, of recent circumcision ceremonies in which the mohel held the child over water, "in order that the holy blood might flow into it, and those standing about washed their faces with the blood-water". The water had been previously boiled with narcotic ingredients. In the case of Jewish infants that are born "uncircumcised" the mohel must at least "make one drop of blood drop, as a sign of the covenant". Preuss (p. 283).

While the second example of symbolic circumcision, which is made permanent by a precept in the law, similar to the episode "Moses as bloody husband", evidently shows that the blood rite, a survival of an ancient sacrificial custom, in time displaced the phallic idea of circumcision among the Jews as well. The first case of communally performed "blood baptism" belongs to quite another chain of psychic phenomena, which manifests itself here and there scattered among other tribes. Perhaps (?) the exsuction of the infant's bleeding penis by the mohel also belongs here, as well as the mika operation to be mentioned later. All these blood ceremonies whereby the older men of the tribe become fraternized with the young people show a homo-erotic element.

On the mika operation Karsch writes (p. 68): "Another even more important adaptation,(relating to mutual masturbation), observed almost exclusively among the Australian negroes, and characteristic of certain groups of tribes, stands in closest connection to the homosexual life of these peoples and even seems to have actual educative effect, that of subincision (mutilation) of the penis. Usually it is undertaken only after circumcision. Its research


shows a history worthy of consideration in more than one respect".

I quote another example after Reik and the inference drawn from it, which, however, will be bound up with the explanation suggested by psychoanalysis to be given later, and without which it cannot be understood. 'Among the Mara and Anula tribes, after the circumcision, some blood from the wound is allowed to drip onto the men whom the one operated lies upon - in order to affect an especially fervent friendship. Among the Urabunas the foreskin and circumcision knife are handed over to the eldest brother of the circumcised, who touches with the foreskin the stomach of every nuthi (a man who stands in the same relationship to the circumcised as his eldest brother).(I)

1) Spencer-Gillen, The Northern Tribes of Central Australia, p. 332: compare with this ceremony the story in Exodus of the attack of Yahweh on Moses and Zipporah's measure.

The ceremony of the Karesau Islanders described by Schmidt also belongs here. "We can recognize in all these rites forms of blood fraternization. Blood bonds of this kind are very ancient and known throughout the world (2), but what are they to signify in this connection? Why do the elder, already circumcised men also draw blood out of their penis"? (Reik.)

2) Cf. Robertson-Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, Sec. edit., London, 1907. 116

Let us remember that these elderly men, dominated by an unconscious fear of requital, introduced castration or circumcision and incision as penance for the unconscious incest impulses of the young men. Consequently, if they perform a kind of castration by incision on themselves, they perform a common act that can be based only on the same psychic phenomena: "There is in it a recognition of the same desires that once animated themselves and that forced them into taking such precautionary measures against the young men. It is then, a reconciliation of these child-


hood impulses and an emotional identification with the young people". (Reik, pp. 108-109.)

Reik (p. 119) as a result of his researches on the libidinous proceedings after the primary scene in the brotherhood clan, comes to the following conclusion: "It was actually a case of the failure of heterosexual libidinorealization: this was caused especially by the plurality of brothers and the sexual rivalry resulting therefrom. The excitement aroused by the common, but denied, object of the libido, the mother, had to be bestowed upon some other object; it was transposed to the masculine object and thus, from another quarter, the tender (homosexual) feelings of the brothers to one another strengthened".

According to other authors, circumcision has another sense: the shedding of blood had a prophylactic effect against caco-demons and was thus an act of exorcism. This is the opinion of Spencer (p. 40): "It is not rash to conjecture that circumcision had a prophylactic indication and had the power by the grace of God of warding off injury by cacodemons from all persons fortified with that sign". Strabo has already expressed a similar opinion.

It is expressed much more distinctly in Baronias (Wintzler (p. 6)): "Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and the name Jesus given him at the circumcision, but by the shedding of blood that had resulted from the circumcision he destroyed the work of the devil, among which he especially counts the shameful and devilish customs of the heathens which they practice particularly on the first of January".1)

1) The first of January is still today celebrated by the Catholic Church as the day of the circumcision of Christ, "Circumcisio Domini". (B.)

Schrieke supports the view that circumcision is one of the many acts of ritual whereby primitive man seeks to neutralize the dangerous powers that appear at the beginning of puberty (p. 398).

Since the phallus god was also considered an evil de-


mon among the Jews and Christians, circumcision is conceived of as "a prevention of the phallic cult". The same view was expressed by Saint Thomas. Circumcision was introduced to ridicule the phallic cult as well as the mysteries of Venus, to bring them into disrepute among the Israelites, since by circumcision the very part so highly adored by the other nations was changed and thus depreciated.

Among negroes also, according to Reade, circumcision has arisen out of the phallic cult as a phallic sacrifice. Considering the great part that the phallus occupies in fetish religion, especially among the West Africans, it is easily comprehensible, as Reade proves, in a land where the men are seldom impotent, the women seldom unfruitful. (Karsch, p. 125.)

In the discussion of the phallic cult, to which we shall later return, we shall see that circumcision is actually in the service of this cult, and is not at all meant to prevent it. Benzinger also (p. 120) takes this stand. Moreover, Benzinger makes a valuable contribution in thus linking up circumcision with the idea of sacrifice: "In solemnization of the Sabbath and circumcision the Jews sought a substitute for sacrifice, which they lacked, for they were not bound up with the temple. Thus circumcision became the chief symbol of the Jewish religious community". "The symbolism is also very transparent, it is an act of purification (in the cultic sense), the foreskin being the substance of uncleanliness".

Rietzenstein thus psychologically differentiates human sacrifice and circumcision: "Both are based on the ancient double development of the concept of sacrifice, proved to be characteristic of most peoples: the object of sacrifice is either annihilated or placed in the service of the god. Circumcision is delivery to a god: by it one becomes web, "pure". ("The Egyptian priest is called web,


the pure one".) "It is ordination into the priesthood". (Reitzenstein, 11, p. 9.)

If one epitomizes all the arguments in favor of the idea of human sacrifice, one must admit that with the exception of America the suggested explanation that derives the original motive for circumcision from the development of the concept of sacrifice does not hold water. The motive for circumcision cannot be brought into a causal connection with the sacrifice of the first-born for the simple reason that the circumcision of infants is a very late acquisition of all peoples. But a subsequent transmission of the idea of sacrifice to the previously present circumcision does seem very probable; many blood rites certainly speak for it, e.g. the symbolical circumcision of Jewish infants that are born "circumcised", as well as the concluding words of the mohel's blessing already quoted, which actually identifies the act with the sacrifice of Isaac. But that the sacrifice itself is not primary among the Jews may easily be seen from the fact that the main emphasis is placed on the second act of circumcision, the periah: a Jew who has not been subjected to the periah is not considered circumcised. The idea of sacrifice would be satisfied by the first act, the cut, as is shown by the exceptional case of children who are born "uncircumcised" being received into the covenant.

Many blood rites seem to have a homo-erotic origin. In the discussion of the initiation of boys I shall return to the social blood sacrifice, which Le Roy considers circumcision to be.

Psychoanalysis ties up directly with the explanations that see in circumcision a consecration or substitute for human sacrifice. It must be admitted that its discipline is the only one in all the study of circumcision that has at least evaluated all the factors with which mythology and ethnology have supplied us, and observed them methodically. All parallel phenomena in the initiation of boys

p. 120

have been drawn into the Labyrinth of its imagination in the greatest detail, and thus a complete complex of facts discovered in favor of the Oedipus-complex which is its center. But the structure has only a frontal facade, it is one-sided, because the physiology of the erection and the function of the foreskin in general has not been taken into account, as little as the psychic phenomena in the child, the adolescent and the mature man, which are closely connected with them. Neither were the possibilities of development and the expansion of the custom of circumcision kept in mind.

Since psychoanalysis works with many hitherto untouched modifications of circumcision or its vicarious forms, and also enters into the suggested explanations of rationalistic tendencies, the latter must be taken up first for the better understanding of the subject.

Page 120-149
Part Two

Navigation Hierarchy
Chapter Three
The Origins of Routine Male Circumcision
Phimosis Through the Ages

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