On Monday evening the London Fortean Society hosted Phil Hine - A Phallic (K)night. After Gregory Akerman's humorous and interesting thoughts on death and Owen Hopkins' insightful talk about Hawksmoor I was very much in the mood to trust the LFS with whatever they could throw at me and despite some obvious early guffawing at the subject I thought a talk about the history of dick worship might actually be very interesting.
Writer and occultist Phil Hine was in Conway Hall to talk about Richard Payne Knight. The collector, arbiter of taste, and scholar whose book Discourse on the worship of Priapus (to shorten the title considerably, Knight clearly considered length important) was the first to propose the theory that all religion (including Christianity) and mythology derives from primitive fertility cults.
The book was released in 1786 and in it Knight outlined his theory that both male and female genitalia (but mainly male going by the pictures) are symbols of procreative power and that the primal life force is worshipped through imagery that would've been seen as highly obscene at the time.
Nowadays, via contemporary paganism and the works of Freud and Jung, these ideas are more established. You may not agree that a church tower is a phallic symbol but it's highly unlikely the concept of phallic imagery and penis substitutes is new to you. Sports cars and all that.
Knight, being a very rich man who'd grown up in a stately home, had been on the Grand Tour and while bringing back artefacts for the British Museum he took a particular interest in some of the findings that contained graphic sexual imagery. From this he proposed that earlier religions had always paid tribute to genitalia and that Christianity, modern Christianity at least, had promoted the theory of sex as something dirty, to be hidden, to be ashamed of.
He was, of course, attacked as an infidel and an apologist. Possibly as a pornographer but if you get off on the images below that's probably more your problem. One of them does, perhaps, give us an idea where the term 'pecker' comes from.
These pictures were blown up large behind the speaker during the talk and, amazingly, there were only a couple of giggles. Hine's talk took in Aleister Crowley, Madame Blavatsky, and Knight's time as a member of parliament. A proud member one would hope. It was fat and long but sometimes, perhaps in order to impress, it lost its thrust a bit.
I must confess I lost the drift a little bit a couple of times. The bits about comparative religions veered too close to the academic and, bearing in mind the subject matter, a few laughs might've been nice. Maybe some knob gags. You'll have noticed I've at least tried.
It was still interesting to hear how Knight's, once ridiculed, ideas had moved into popular thought. Not least through a reissue of the book in the 19th century.
During the Q&A session at the end a lady in the audience asked what he thought about the seemingly universal custom of drawing cocks on toilet walls and garage doors etc; Hine didn't seem to regard this as a serious enough question. I thought it was a pity as the questioner had probably tapped into something far more primal within us than the speaker's somewhat flaccid delivery.