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The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)

A discourse on the worship of Priapus, and its connection with the mystic theology of the ancients

by Richard Payne Knight


I had long ago discovered, that the women and children of the lower class, at Naples, and in its neighbourhood, frequently wore,

1 A specimen of each of the ex-Vottoi wax, with the original letter from Isernia. See the Ex-voti, Plate 1.


as an ornament of dress, a fort of Amulets, (which they imagine to be a preservative from the mal occhii, evil eyes, or enchantment) exactly similar to those which were worn by the ancient Inhabitants of this Country for the very same purpose, as likewise for their supposed invigorating influence; and all of which have evidently a relation to the Cult of Priapus. Struck with this conformity in ancient and modern superstition, I made a collection of both the ancient and modern Amulets of this fort, and placed them together in the British Museum, where they remain. The modern Amulet most in vogue represents a hand clinched, with the point of the thumb thrust betwixt the index and middle1 finger; the next is a shell; and the third is a half-moon. These Amulets (except the shell, which is usually worn in its natural state) are most commonly made of silver, but sometimes of ivory, coral, amber, crystal, or some curious gem, or pebble. We have a proof of the hand above described having a connection with Priapus, in a most elegant small idol of bronze of that Divinity, now in the Royal Museum of Portici, and which was found in the ruins of Herculaneum: it has an enormous Phallus, and, with an arch look and gesture, stretches out its right hand in the form above mentioned;2 and which probably was an emblem of consummation: and as a further proof of it, the Amulet which occurs most frequently amongst those of the Ancients (next to that which represents the simple Priapus), is such a hand united with the Phallus; ot which you may see several specimens in my collection in the British Museum. One in particular, I recollect, has also the halfmoon joined to the hand and Phallus ; which half-moon is supposed to have an allusion to the female menJes. The shell, or concha veneris, is evidently an emblem of the female part of generation. It is very natural then to suppose, that the Amulets representing the Phallus alone, so visibly indecent, may have been long out of use in this civilized capital; but I have been assured, that it is but very lately that the Priests have put an end to the wearing of such Amulets in Calabria, and other distant Provinces of this Kingdom.

1 See Plate N., Fig. i.

9 This elegant little figure is engraved in the first volume of the Bronzes of the Herculaneum.

A new road having been made last year from this Capital to the Province of Abruzzo, passing through the City of Isernia (anciently belonging to the Samnites, and very populous1), a person ot liberal education, employed in that work, chanced to be at Isernia just at the time of the celebration of the Feast of the modern Priapus, St. Cosmo; and having been struck with the singularity of the ceremony, so very similar to that which attended the ancient Cult of the God of the Gardens, and knowing my taste for antiquities, told me of it. From this Gentleman's report, and from what I learnt on the spot from the Governor of Isernia himself, having gone to that city on purpose in the month of February last, I have drawn up the following account, which I have reason to believe is strictly true. I did intend to have been present at the Feast of St. Cosmo this year; but the indecency of this ceremony having probably transpired, from the country's having been more frequented since the new road was made, orders have been given, that the Great Toe2 of the Saint should no longer be exposed. The following is the account of the F&te of St. Cosmo and Damiano, as it actually was celebrated at Isernia, on the confines of Abruzzo, in the Kingdom of Naples, so late as in the year of our Lord 1780.

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