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This article is about the symbol of the erect penis. For the male sex organ see penis

Mercury god

Mural of Mercury in Pompeii.

The word phallus can refer to an erect penis, to a penis-shaped object such as a dildo, or to a mimetic image of an erect penis. Any object that symbolically resembles a penis may also be referred to as a phallus; however, such objects are more often referred to as being phallic (as in "phallic symbol"). Such symbols often represent the fertility and cultural implications that are associated with the male sexual organ, as well as the male orgasm.


Via Latin, and Greek]] φαλλός, from Indo-European root *bhel- "to inflate, swell". Compare with Old Norse modern Icelandic boli = "bull", Old English bulluc = "bullock", Greek φαλλή = "whale". [1]

In physical anatomy[]

The term phallus refers to the erect male penis. It is sometimes also used to refer to the clitoris of a female, particularly during fetal development before sexual differentiation is evident.

It also refers to the male sexual organ of certain birds, which differs anatomically from a true (i.e. mammalian) penis.

In psychoanalysis[]

The symbolic version of the phallus, a phallic symbol is meant to represent male generative powers. According to Sigmund Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, while males possess a penis, no one can possess the symbolic phallus. Jacques Lacan's Ecrits: A Selection includes an essay titled The Significance of the Phallus which articulates the difference between "being" and "having" the phallus. Men are positioned as men insofar as they are seen to have the phallus. Women, not having the phallus, are seen to "be" the phallus. The symbolic phallus is the concept of being the ultimate man, and having this is compared to having the divine gift of God.

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler explores Freud's and Lacan's discussions of the symbolic phallus by pointing out the connection between the phallus and the penis. She writes, "The law requires conformity to its own notion of 'nature'. It gains its legitimacy through the binary and asymmetrical naturalization of bodies in which the phallus, though clearly not identical to the penis, deploys the penis as its naturalized instrument and sign" (135). In Bodies that Matter, she further explores the possibilities for the phallus in her discussion of The Lesbian Phallus. If, as she notes, Freud enumerates a set of analogies and substitutions that rhetorically affirm the fundamental transferability of the phallus from the penis elsewhere, then any number of other things might come to stand in for the phallus (62).

In gender studies[]

In cultural terms, phallocentrism is used to describe a male-centered doctrine or behavior, and sometimes refers to patriarchy, while gynocentrism is used to describe female-centered doctrine or behavior, and sometimes refers to matriarchy. Furthermore, the term yonic has often been used to describe something as vaginal and is considered the counterpart to the term phallic.

In art[]

File:Beardsley Belt Buckle.jpg

This belt buckle was inspired by Aubrey Beardsley's illustration The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors.

Ancient and modern sculptures of phalloi have been found in many parts of the world, notably among the vestiges of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Hohle phallus, a 28,000-year-old siltstone phallus discovered in the Hohle Fels cave and first assembled in 2005, is among the oldest phallic representations known.[1]

Shakespeare often incorporated phallic symbols into his plays; swords and knives, for example, were phallic symbols representing the masculinity of their wielders.[How to reference and link to summary or text] For example, in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus says to his fiancé Hippolyta "I wooed thee with my sword"

In religion[]

In anthropology, phallicism or phallic worship refers to the ritual adoration of the human penis, or the phallus. Elements of phallicism have been found in many cultures, including Ancient Greece, India and Sumer.

Ancient India[]

In Tantric Shaivism a symbolic marker, Linga was used for phallic worship of the Hindu God Shiva. In related art the Linga or Lingam is the depiction of Shiva as a phallus (for example:mukhalinga) or cosmic pillar.This pillar is the worship focus of the Hindu temple, and is often situated within a yoni,indicating a balance between male and female creative energies. Fertility is not the limit of reference derived from these sculptures, more generally they may refer to abstract principles of creation. Tantricism should not be generalised to all forms of Hindu worship.

The mukhalingas of the Huntington Archive might well be compared with the personified Phallos terracotta of the Delos Museum, depicted in "Jean Marcadé "Die Griechen" Ars et Amor-Die Erotik In der Kunst, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag München 1978, pg 78


An open-air Hindu linga.

Ancient Egypt[]


The Egyptian God Min

The Ancient Egyptians related the cult of phallus with Osiris. When Osiris' body was cut in 14 pieces, Seth scattered them all over Egypt and his family retrieved all of them except one, his penis, which was swallowed by a fish (see the Legend of Osiris and Isis).

The phallus was a symbol of fertility, and the god Min was often depicted ithyphallic (with an erect penis).

Ancient Greece[]


Phallus - shaped column from the sanctuary of Dionysus in Delos

In traditional Greek mythology, Hermes, god of boundaries and exchange (popularly the messenger god) was considered to be a phallic deity by association with representations of him on herms (pillars) featuring a phallus. There is no scholarly consensus on this depiction and it would be speculation to consider Hermes a type of fertility god.

Pan, son of Hermes, was often depicted as having an exaggerated erect phallus.

Priapus was a Greek god of fertility whose symbol was an exaggerated phallus. The son of Aphrodite and either Dionysus or Adonis, according to different forms of the original myth, he was the protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens, and male genitalia. His name is the origin of the medical term priapism.

Ancient Scandinavia[]

The Norse god Freyr was a phallic deity, representing male fertility and love.

The short story Völsa þáttr describes a family of Norwegians worshipping a preserved horse penis.

Ancient Rome[]

Ancient Romans wore phallic jewelry as talismans against the evil eye.

Native America[]



Figures of Kokopelli in Pre-Columbian America often include phallic content.

Ancient Japan[]

The Mara Kannon shrine (麻羅観音 or まらかんのん)in Nagato city, Yamaguchi prefecture. One of many fertility shrines in Japan that still exist today and also present in festivals such as the Danjiri Matsuri (だんじり祭)in Kishiwada city, Osaka prefecture though historically phallus adoration was more widespread.

See also[]


  1. includeonly>Amos, Jonathan. "Ancient phallus unearthed in cave", BBC News, 2005-07-25. Retrieved on 2006-07-08.


  • Vigeland Monolith - Oslo, Norway [2]
  • Honour, Hugh (1999). The Visual Arts: A History, New York: H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0-810-93935-5.
  • Keuls, Eva C. (1985). The Reign of the Phallus, New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-520-07929-9.
  • Leick, Gwendolyn (1994). Sex and Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-06534-8.
  • Lyons, Andrew P.; Harriet D. Lyons (2004). Irregular Connections: A History of Anthropology and Sexuality, U Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8036-X.
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