a new expletive

Hey guys, I have a new expletive – Saint Fuck! 

He’s one of the Phallic Saints of the Catholic Church.

Specifically Saint Foutin, the former Pothin or Pothinus, first bishop of Lyon. Over time the pronunciation of his name shifted and through folk etymology became linked to the verb foutre (“to fuck”). 

Regarding these Phallic Saints Gordon Rattray Taylor writes in Sex In History:

The statues of these saints were usually equipped with large phalli: when the Protestants took Embrun in 1585, they found the people worshipping the phallus of St. Foutin and pouring wine on it, whence his sobriquet, le saint vinaigre. Women wishing to conceive would make use of the phallus in the same way that Roman wives would, before entering the marriage bed, make use of the wooden phallus of Mutunus Tutunus. A large wooden phallus covered with leather was found in 1562 when the Protestants destroyed the church at Orange, which was doubtless used for similar purposes. 

It is easy to fall into the error of thinking of all these ceremonies as having been simply quaint survivals, as we should now regard them today. But it cannot be doubted that they were perfectly real and extremely important at the time. Only if we accept the fact that there was a persistent conviction that phallic religion was the true religion, and that, in the last resort, the phallic deities were more powerful and more beneficent than the upstart Christian god, can we understand such things as the belief that one could avoid the plague by committing incest on the altar: for this was evidently an act which asserted in the strongest imaginable form one’s adherence to phallicism and mother worship, and at the same time one’s contempt for the cruel father-deity who had sent the plague.

Phallic practices continued long after the end of the Middle Ages. In 1786, the British Minister in Naples wrote to the president of the Royal Society explaining how, in a little explored part of Isernia, he had found the peasants worshipping “the great toe of St. Cosmo” (i.e. the phallus) with appropriate rites. During the three-day feast, peasants, chiefly women, would present waxen ex votos, kissing them before giving them to the priest and saying “Santo Cosimo benedetto, cosi lo voglio” (Blessed St. Cosmo, that’s how I want it to be). Men would present their afflicted members to the priest to be anointed with oil, and 1,400 flasks of oil were consumed every year for this purpose.

There was also Saint Guignolé (Winwaloe), first Abbot of Landévennec, who acquired his priapic status by confusion of his name with gignere (Fr. engendrer, “to beget.”) Though immensely popular with the people, his shrine was destroyed in 1793.

Here’s a picture of his statue from the chapel of Prigny in Loire-Atlantique:


Local girls would pierce Saint Guignolé’s feet, believing that this ceremony would help them find their soul-mate. 

Which reminds me of the squilling of Pan:

Theocritus, a native of Syracuse, preserved local traditions in his writings and recorded the oldest known reference to squilling in the third century BCE. “This do, sweet Pan, and never, when slices be too few/ May the leeks of the lads of Arcady beat thee black and blue.” (VIII 106-109) If the kill was small, or worse yet, the hunters returned empty handed, the young men of the village would ceremonially circle around a statue of Pan and use large bulbous onions attached to their stalks, “squills,” to whip Pan around the shoulders and genital area. 

When considered out of context, whipping one’s God into helping seems a crude and bizarre rite. However, it gave the young hunters an outlet for their fears and anxieties, reminded them of their society’s understanding that sustenance and life itself are gifts of the Gods, and aligned them as the sons of Pan who, like them, was a hunter and so must be invulnerable to pain, hardship and loneliness. “Wilhelm Mannhardt put forth the theory that the scapegoat is ‘originally’ the vegetation spirit, who must be whipped, chased, and even killed in order to be invigorated, to be born afresh.” (Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual p. 68) Whipping was understood to stimulate life-giving power when performed with fertilizing boughs, as are those of the squill. Lewis Richard Farnell writes: “The object of this discipline was not punishment and insult, but stimulative magic whereby the life-giving power of the deity might be restored.” (Sukey Fontelieu, The Archetypal Pan in America: Hypermasculinity and Terror)

There were many others as well, such as St. Guerlichon, or Greluchon, at Bourg Dieu — whose name has become a synonym for prostitute; St. Gilles at Cotentin; St. Rene in Anjou (by a confusion with reins, kidneys — the supposed seat of sexual power) and so forth.

So hail Saint Fuck, and may the blessings of fertility and renewal be yours!

2 thoughts on “a new expletive

  1. After reading this, I now know it’s ok to say, “Holy Fuck!” and not feel guilty for swearing!


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