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Historical Background
How Did MGM Start?--1

Continued here   19th & 20th Century   American Anthropological Assoc. & 1990s   20th Century Statistics   >CIRP Library   >History of Circumcision

From Genetic Cosmology 
to Genital Cosmetics

Origin Theories of the Righting Rites of Male Circumcision [1]
Published in Circumcision: A Virtual Journal
© Copyright 1997 Duane Voskuil
a paper first presented at the
Third International Symposium on Circumcision
University of Maryland
Washington, DC, May 24, 1994  

by Duane Voskuil, Ph.D.


       Man’s preconscious envy of woman’s power to reproduce and interpret cosmic order underlies the origin of male genital cosmetics and blood-letting. Humanity began by seeing the world ordered like a woman’s body. Her control of her body and her body’s control of her, with its blood and milk flows, birthing and death, was the basis for the first metaphors to explain cosmic forces, made easier since the moon’s cycles mirrored her life stages and her monthly bleeding. The sympathetic magical effect of body-modifying cosmetics enhanced this cosmic tie. For men to understand this female-focused cosmology, required the right mind-set. Male genital cosmetic surgery imprinted the cosmic female cycles into man’s mind by altering his body and, therefore, his brain and mind, to reflect female patterns. Ancient brain/mind-sets and envy of youth’s virility have maintained the righting rite even after patriarchy tries to tell males they are OK. Yet, males do not feel secure since the persistence of ingrained female patterns conflict with male-gendered rituals. Gendered cosmologies always cause divisiveness and neurotic behavior.  



I. Becoming AWARE
Of buttons and bows.
Two purposes presented.
Pain and AWAREness.
AWARE and beware.
AWAREness always partial.
Proposals for circumcision origin.
Pre-patriarchal origin.
Blood-letting and creation.
Circumcision indispensable.
II. Evolution and Meaning.
Physiology, Sex and gender.
Nature, culture and patrism.
Metaphor and myth.
Religion and culture.
Gender superficial but influential.
III. Origin Metaphors Based in Menstruation.
Female perspective.
Genetic cosmology.
Menstrual blood unavoidable.
Blood and predators.
Blood as life.
Appropriate behavior as ritual.
Menstrual isolation.
Menstruation and the moon.
Moon people, moon cognates.
Coincidence as control.
Body as microcosm.
Gaining control of self and cosmos.
Success and celebration.
IV. Man's Place in a Woman's World.
Cosmetics and cosmology.
Ritual as conceptualization.
Blood, kin and power.
Superficial males.
Male lunatics.
Cosmetic surgery for cosmological knowledge.
Circumcision and Menstruation.
Righting rites of genital blood.
Male power from female grace.
Heroic life and sacred king.
Genital sacrifice as substitute.
Blessings' trickle-down.
V. Patriarchal Modifications.
Male separatism.
Hierarchical abusers.
Male re-birthing.
Domination and womb envy.
Ritual hunting, war and sports.
Gender and materialism.
VI. Summary.
The flow-er.
The prick-er
Genderless cosmic subject
Selected Bibliography


I. On Becoming AWARE.

Of buttons and bows.  In North Dakota one can still find an abandoned farm with a barn and its make-shift stanchions, a granary with oft-repaired mouse holes and a cast-out radio, a garage studded with nails hung with gaskets and license plates, a two-holer too far from the house to use on a subzero winter’s night, and a house with its cut-glass window over-looking overgrown lilacs and a weed-filled driveway. Inside one lonely house, among scattered clothes, boxes of personal papers and calendars dating to my youth, among accumulated years of thin phone books with names marked out or penciled in, is a brown paper bag half full of buttons in one corner of a vanity drawer. I put the buttons in a bubbled-glass mason jar, turn it around like a kaleidoscope and meditate on the lives whose fingers fingered the endless variety of these cosmic shapes that helped alter bodies and minds with their cosmetic purpose.

For years I have turned off highways onto numerous byways looking for a stack of letters tied up with a faded ribbon or handwriting on a cellar wall that would tell me why people with flintstone knives, stingray spines or sharp fingernails began to attack our body’s pleasure center. I wish I could say I’ve found the philosopher’s stone in some crumbling foundation wall or a talking burning bush. I haven’t.

But I have found enough buttons, enough pieces of cloth and tattered letters to have a good hunch. So with the broken Philco radio sitting on the mantel like an oracle skull, I’ve laid the pieces on a worn floor, filled in the largest holes with the most likely cloth and stitching, and listened for the spirits to speak. They whispered, but this is what I heard them say:

Two purposes presented.  (1) The origin of the cosmos, like our human origin and all gendered life-forms, came from the creative power of a female. As a whole worldview developed around female physiology, men acquired a deepening sense of anxiety and inferiority. Men’s bodies did not flow, create nor nurture new lives. Men were hard-pressed to identify with a culture based on such bodily functions. Genital surgery was the male “fix,” a fix so powerful it continues even though men have wrested social power and philosophical explanations from women.

As I sat there, I also heard (2) how insidious every gender-based philosophy must be. Genital mutilations would never have occurred had our cosmologies been genderless. The origin of violence on male genitals was founded on a view of reality that devalued men. The sacred, life-giving blood did not clot within male genitals to create new life, nor flow from them in harmony with the universe. As horrendous as men’s backlash towards women has been, men still hear a voice telling them, “Fear women!” If the voice were more precise it might say, “Fear female-based philosophical cosmogonies.” This voice may be right.

We are exploring a time where buttons are hard to find. I can only hope this thesis, which seems reasonable and interesting to me, will become a working hypothesis for future research.

Pain and AWAREness.  I’m no longer AWARE when I first became AWARE of what a foreskin was or when I heard foreskins are routinely cut off. I do remember as a preschooler having recurring nightmares of men going from house to house knocking on doors and asking parents to give them their boys so they could be officially castrated. I can still feel the panic I had 50 years ago as the crew came closer to my house and I realized my parents would tell them I existed. I still feel the agony that eventually shocked me awake, screaming, as I sought to find a safe place in some dark closet. I was not AWARE then that many humans are castrated like male pigs on the farm. I was not AWARE then that many of us had already been mutilated. Each time I hear of another kind of assault on male or female genitals, I want to wake up.

AWARE and beware.  I’ve been driven by a hope genital mutilations would stop if we could became more AWARE of the reasons they started. As I was regretting that these reasons seem lost in a time before possible documentation, it occurred to me to reflect on the meaning of “AWAREness” itself, since language often maintains meanings below our AWAREness.

In the Oxford English Dictionary I was pleased to find the word “AWARE” once meant “to be wary,” or “to be on guard“ before it came to mean “enlightenment” or “consciousness.” The word itself carries with it how AWAREness develops, that is, from concrete physical experiences to more abstract and general concepts. Perhaps being AWARE of how AWAREness evolved can help us be more AWARE why circumcision started, or at least help recognize the more likely theories.

Originally, looking out for our physical safety must have been one and the same with looking out for the safety of our conceptual life, our fundamental belief structure. We all live our lives in a fog of cause and effect. Though we may not be able to isolate the exact causes for an event, we refuse to believe things happen for no reason. Where true cause and effect cannot be established, superstition or sympathetic magic takes over.

The split between mind and matter, physical and conceptual, is already a highly evolved, sophisticated concept. Feelings and meanings do not begin in AWAREness. Life is first physical feeling and action. Successful actions are repeated. Repeated action is the beginning of ritual which embodies our first symbols. Symbols, in turn, come to control action, often with little AWAREness of the purpose for the control.

AWAREness always partial.  Most of my life I never asked why circumcision began. Like the Fargo businessman who, when asked whether he was circumcised, answered, “I don’t know,” I didn’t know enough to ask the question. The ability to ask a question is already a state of AWAREness.

We will have little success discovering why circumcision started by asking people why they amputate parts of their children’s genitals. Most people do not know or are unAWARE why they do it. If someone does give a reason, it will likely be a rationalization for continuing the practice, not why it began (ERE 664). Explanations are necessarily given within a philosophical context, a substratum of beliefs that defines the culture, and these beliefs are never fully articulated.

Proposals for circumcision origin.  Evidence is increasing that the metaphors used to explain origins at the time circumcisions began were significantly different from those we use today. The following are some of the reasons given for the origin of male genital mutilation: An act of consecration, a sacrifice, a tribal mark, a blood-charm, for hygiene, to remove phimosis, protection against sexual dangers, a test of courage, to increase reproduction, a hallowing of the sexual life, an intensification of sexual pleasure, a diminishment of sexual pleasure, an expression of the belief in resurrections, to be more like a woman, and to be less like a woman (ERE, B, W 265-266).[2]

The last two, which find the reason for circumcision in men’s physical difference from women, I think come closest. If circumcision has a pre-patriarchal origin, being like a woman would seem to make sense as a motivation. If circumcision is a patriarchal invention, being less like a woman could be a reason. But patriarchal circumcision, from all indications, is an adaptation of a ritual already well-established before the rise of male-dominated societies.

Pre-patriarchal origin.  We know circumcisions were being done at the time writing was invented (TS 4). Patriarchal patterns began to take over as a cultural norm 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, becoming fully instituted in Europe and America only after the witch burnings and, some would argue, not until the 19th century.[3] Circumcision may continue as an expression of hierarchical control by dominant males or their gods,[4] but it is not likely to have started in such an environment. We don’t mutilate what we truly love and admire. The original mutilation must have been seen as an improvement of the male genitals, as many see it yet today.

Blood-letting and creation.  Perhaps, circumcision did begin as a male bonding rite, but not as a bonding among males. The bond was likely a bonding of males to a female-gendered AWAREness, to a cultural philosophy dominated by female metaphors. Male genital blood-letting is man’s way of being “on guard” or “AWARE” of female-type forces that make and control our bodies and the universe. It is his way of fitting in and righting nature’s wrong. Nature’s mistake is not the prepuce nor any particular part of his genitals. The mistake is the failure of male genitals to bleed which denies them the power of creation (GJ).

Circumcision indispensable.  Certainly, circumcision was thought to be an indispensable ritual, important for the survival of the group, not the thoughtless mutilation many claim it has become. The NOCIRC campaign stirs up so many “irrational” and strong emotions because, unarticulated as they are, these reasons, once believed to be a matter of life and death, still motivate genital blood-letting. Vachel Lindsay’s poem The Congo has the haunting refrain, “the Mumbo Jumbo will hoo-doo you.” Who can doubt the Mumbo Jumbo hoo-doos us as we watch our entranced shamans in their white robes and sterile inner sanctums wheedling their flintstone knives in the indispensable genital righting rite?

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