Phallic Rivers of Faith

The esoteric and erotic are sometimes linked, though not often do we find them together in a work of comparative religion. In 1883, James Forlong published a large tome with an equally large title: Rivers of Life, or Sources and Streams of the Faiths of Man in All Lands; Showing the Evolution of Faiths from the Rudest Symbolisms to the Latest Spiritual Developments. Forlong belonged to the “phallicist school of religious anthropology,” a group whose work loosely and lasciviously read religious history as an evolutionary unfolding that, after 10,000 years of maturation, exploded into modern faiths. Forlong’s seminal ideas are encapsulated in a detailed and colorful chart, Rivers of Life or Faiths of Man in All Lands. Despite Forlong’s prodigious and erudite efforts, he gets nearly everything wrong.

Forlong is the strange sort of character that the British Empire regularly threw up in its mission to colonize the world. It’s too bad we don’t have a biography of him because despite being wrong about nearly every aspect of religious history, he seems to have been the kind of crank that everyone can know and love. The working title of such a biography might be The Man Who Would Be Phallic King; God of the Fertile Groves — Interpreting Religious History Through Lord Forlong’s Sexual Lens. Or something like that. Those interested can find volume two of his massive work here. Forlong is not, unsurprisingly, a figure much studied in the anthropology of religion.

Huaxteca Phallis Icon in Mexico City Anthropology  Museum (photo by Jasmine Stephenson)

Huaxteca Phallis Icon in Mexico City Anthropology Museum (photo by Jasmine Stephenson)

Did you like this? Share it:

4 thoughts on “Phallic Rivers of Faith

  1. Ernest Valdemar (@ErnestValdemar)

    Can you elucidate on why you illustrated this post with the poster for Barrymore’s Svengali?

    While I can certainly see how Svengali could be interpreted in “magic penis” mode, I’ve always seen it through the character Trilby, who seems to be the archetype for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Hollywood films.

    (The novel is on my list, but I haven’t read it yet. And of course the stage play — which gave us the eponymous hat — is not available. But the PD version of the novel that I downloaded shows Marian Marsh on the cover, so I’m guessing Manic Pixie Dream Girl predates Hollywood by a bit.)

    Or is there some connection between phallic theology and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that I’m missing? I’m only familiar with feminist critiques of the MPDG trope.

  2. Cris Post author

    If you want analysis of intent, I’d come up short. I wrote this post at about 5 this morning and for some reason I was picturing Forlong as a Svengali type of character, hence the picture. It was a stream of consciousness sort of thing and just seemed right at the time. I considered changing it to a film clip from “The Man Who Would Be King” but couldn’t find any clips I liked. So it’s staying — I like the idea of having a juxtaposition that puzzles my readers.

  3. Altamash Khan

    I disagree with Mr Chris Campbell.
    Rivers of Life was a landmark book , written by one the most erudite and learned scholars of antiquity, James George Roche Forlong. He served 33 years in the Indian subcontinent and coalesced a huge knowledge base on the rites, customs, beliefs and mythologies of the natives, in his monumental work ” Rivers of Life”.
    A later , more mature work in the form of short studies was presented dealing with proto semitic religions and the religions of south east asia.
    Please read the works of Colonel CR Conders, Thomas Inman, Godfrey Higgins, Jacob Bryant , Charles Francois Dupois, George Stanley Faber, Henry O’ Brian, Marcus Keane, Westropp, Hargrave Jennings, which will validate the inferences of Gen Forlong.
    The worship of fertility and the MahaDev SIva, the phallic serpentine force is the oldest religion of man.
    Gen Forlongs work is in my opinion , one of the greatest work on ancient religions.
    Thank you

Leave a Reply