"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
| 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)
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.)
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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
"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
"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
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!
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.
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-
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.
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;
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
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
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,
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.
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
"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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.