Yoni and Lingam

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Depiction of the zodiac found at Bracken House, London. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Yoni and Lingam

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Since prehistoric times, humans have made clay figures, bone and ivory carvings and painted on walls, depicting the sexual attributes of gods and goddesses. The walls of ancient Egyptian temples show phallic figures. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus described phallic statues of Osiris. Such representations are also found in Central and South America, Africa, and around the world. The name generally given to the male organ is "lingam" and to the female, "yoni." These terms were used in India where the reproductive organs were especially associated with the generative divinity.

The organs of generation, both male and female, were often modeled in disproportionate sizes to stress their power and importance. The Roman god Priapus was invariably represented with a huge, erect lingam. Every bride of Roman aristocracy was supposed to sacrifice her virginity to him. St. Augustine (City of God, London,

1609) said, "This custom was once regarded as very honest and religious by Roman women, who obliged the young brides to come and sit upon the masculine representation that was Priapus." In the form of a talisman, the lingam of Priapus was known as Fascinus and might be carried to promote fertility.

Goldberg tells of the priests in Canara and other districts of India who walk the streets naked, carrying and ringing small bells. These bells are to call women out of their houses to "the religious duty of piously embracing their sacred organs." Goldberg goes on to point out that the sanctity of the lingam survives in the Christian attitude of reverence toward the Holy Prepuce, the foreskin of Jesus. He says, "Until very recently there were twelve such prepuces extant in European churches, and many a legend was woven about them. One of these, the pride possession of the Abbey Church of Coulomb, in the diocese of Chartres, France, was believed to possess the miraculous power of rendering sterile women fruitful."

Both the Greeks and Romans would place a lingam over a grave, affirming the belief in eternal life in the face of death. In Naples, phallic images were popular designs on vases, rings, medals, and even into precious stones.

A cylinder hanging from a vase set into a pedestal is part of a Hindu temple's altar. The pedestal is symbolic of Brahma, the basis of everything in the universe. The vase represents Vishnu, the goddess and female principle, and within it is the cylinder representing Siva, the male god, the lingam. The two together represent the sexual union, the foundation upon which Hindu mythology has developed. The pestle and mortar have long been thought of as representing the lingam and the yoni. The two working together in an act of creation.

In the Wiccan Cakes and Ale (or Cakes and Wine) ritual, the athamé represents the lingam and the goblet represents the yoni. The priest will lower the athamé into the goblet with the words, "As the athamé is the male, and the cup is the female, conjoined may they bring happiness." In Witchcraft the lingam is also represented on the Phallic or Priapic Wand and on many riding poles or broomsticks.