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.

The Sacrifice Theory and The Oedipus Complex
as the origin for routine circumcision.

Both sacrifice and the castration complex (or the Oedipus complex) are still widely believed to be the origins of routine circumcision and used as arguments for discontinuing this practice in the modern world. There are many sensible reasons against routine circumcision, the theories on sacrifice and castration lead to even more irrational thinking on the subject and thus need to be clearly negated


The Oedipus complex describes how the boy child covets his mother, however he is in conflict because he fears his father`s retribution: cutting off his penis. The theory is that when the child grows to man he re-senses these feelings, and resolves the eternal conflict symbolically by circumcision of his male offspring.

Is it psychologists or our barbaric forefathers who are incapable of even the simplest steps of awareness and intelligence as regards male anatomy? The operation exposes the glans, forming the flaccid penis in a way which emulates the erect state and thus indicating a readiness for sexual intercourse (Hastings, Bryk, Ploss). It is inconceivable that such a measure would be used to diminish or punish any element of sexual competition.

Bryk discusses the Oedipus theory in depth


Though routine circumcison may be seen as a great ignorance from the viewpoint of modern medical attitudes, the idea that it was introduced for sacrificial purposes by mutilating young boys is a ridiculous one.

Astoundingly, as recently as the Sept/Oct 1994 edition of the British Journal of Sexual Medicine, JP Warren FRCP Physician. and J Bigelow PhD Psychologist argue for:-
"The sacrificial origin of circumcision"
"The origins of circumcision are lost in antiquity... No doubt human sacrifice was widespread, and it seems likely that substitutes for this practice included the sacrifice of domestic animals and mutilations of the human body, of which circumcision is just one example...
... An important aspect of sacrifice is the shedding of blood, and circumcision is a notoriously bloody operation,...
Another aspect of sacrifice is that the object which is forfeited should be valuable. The greater the value of the object sacrificed, the more worthy the sacrifice. This should make us wonder what are the value and function of the prepuce. If it were just a useless flap of skin, it would not be much of a sacrifice,... This makes it an ideal sacrificial object, as the circumcised male is able to function normally in society and to procreate, but suffers permanent impairment of sexual enjoyment and bears a visible, life-long reminder of his sacrifice." (27)


Circumcision was not a substitute for human sacrifice because routine circumcision developed previous to ritual sacrifice.

The Encyclopedia Brittanica says - "Blood sacrifice is linked... with the cultures... of the cultivators" (37). Practices involving blood sacrifice developed among the cultivating peoples, because they had an understanding of fertility. They believed that by sacrificing they were renewing life.

As any origins connected with fertility have been conclusively rebutted by anthropological sources since the 1930s and as the thought associations from fertility to sacrifice are one step more abstract, then sacrifice could not have been among the original motives for the introduction of the routine practice.

So much to the facts, as I understand them - now I wish to speculate
I believe the subject deserves greater clarity because so often mutilation and sacrifice are brought into the modern argument against routine infant circumcision and while I agree with the intention, this line of reasoning confuses common sense and is thus counter productive. (It is also an interesting subject, if anyone wishes to discuss the following, please write)

Firstly, for the peoples who performed it, sacrifice was treated with great respect and as the highest expression of their cultural thoughts and perspectives. On the other hand most mutilations (as we would define them) were considered by the folks who performed them as enhancing the beauty and/or social acceptability of the individual.

When those motivated by the modern medical disgrace of routine infant circumcision, compare RIC with sacrifice as a mutilation, then I believe they are associating with the prisoners who were sacrificed by conquering tribes. and in this sense we could talk of sacrificing someone by mutilating him - but then one could imagine removing the penis, but to remove the foreskin and encourage a state which many men feel is preferable, this would be fully illogical.

Sacrifice could have involved his fingers. his ears, his penis, - but why his foreskin? which form of self denial could motivate an operation which forms his penis to emulate the erect member, a state which many men choose and are happy with. The element of having lost something appears only to be evident subjectively among a few people - the distinguishing lines are so unclear that I doubt any God would fulfill any wish in exchange for such a token - it appears inconceivable that natural peoples would introduce such an indistinct measure to demonstrate or induce anything at all.

Lets reconsider: Sacrifice as a form of self-denial - as pennance (out of guilt) or used to be pleasing to Gods and ancestors, impress lovers etc.; must exist as a very basic motivation - we can date a concept of the supernatural previous to fertility: (that aborigenes understand procreation in terms of a spirit child is evidence of this). - Could one of the natural peoples have circumcised himself as a form of self sacrifice, I see no reason why not! - I see removing painful foreskins as a far more obvious and dynamic urge - but yes, I would agree that circumcision could have been first performed for sacrificial reasons - but this refers only to this first operation. As above, the results being more pleasing than showing a mark of any loss, thus the sacrificial thought would lose its substance and would motivate no similar operation on kith and kin.

Purely out of interest are there any other sacrifical practices which were practiced routinely on every member of a tribe? - (apart from taxation :-)

Are cultural sacrificial practices the projection of self denial?

Bryk discusses Sacrifice in far greater depth