FLYING PHALLUS FIGHTS FORCES OF EVIL
How does the male reproductive organ, “exuberant, slightly askew and sometimes frothy,” protect villagers?
“I can make you a new phallus, no problem.”
“But we’re leaving in the morning.”
Figuring that we could always use a bit more protection against demons in our house in Bangkok, I ordered a flying phallus sculpture from Karma, a village artist in central Bhutan.
This seemed to be a practical, and economical, form of Asian homeowners’ insurance. Of course there was no guarantee that the wooden phallus, once imported to Thailand, would have the same anti-demon properties that it provides in this landlocked, traditional country, but I figured it was worth a ten dollar investment.
After all, phalluses — sometimes simple and stylized, often ornate and anatomically-correct — adorn many houses in Bhutan. And these phalluses must do a good job since Bhutan is famously pacifist, the people are largely content (this is the home of Gross National Happiness, after all), and the landlocked kingdom is relatively free of the troublesome domestic dramas that afflict other Asian countries.
Mind you, I already had an ample dose of good luck.
Our small group was trekking along the Nabji-Korphu Trail in the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Only a handful of trekkers are allowed to camp at each of the park’s six campsites and we had the area virtually to ourselves. I spent hours sitting on a rock next to a river, watching electric blue kingfishers dart into the clear mountain water; alone in one of Asia’s most interesting and beautiful protected areas.
But if a little good luck is nice, then surely lots of good luck and protection would be even better.
* * *
Throughout Asia folks rely on cosmic bodyguards that might come in the form of mystical tattoos, amulets, incantations and making of merit.
The Bhutanese, however, choose the male reproductive organ to ensure that a home is free from evil spirits and slander.
These phallus images, called po in Dzonghka, Bhutan’s national language, are sometimes painted on the outside walls of Bhutanese houses, sometimes carved from wood and hung from the eaves of their sturdy stone and timber dwellings. Dasho Karma Ura, head of the Center for Bhutan Studies, describes these phalluses as “exuberant and gifted penises, always slightly askew and sometimes frothy.”
The man who generally gets credited with popularizing the good-luck-phallus craze was a 15th-16th-century Buddhist yogi named Lama Drukpa Kunley. He was to phallus-popularity what Brigitte Bardot was to the bikini.
Unlike the gentle and placid approach of mainstream Buddhist missionaries, Drukpa Kunley proselytized through anarchy, shock and awe. He believed that only by spotlighting the absurdity of all fixed, man-made rules, and by forcing the student to abandon all ideas of predictability and emotional security, can people become wise enough to understand the “crazy wisdom” of Buddhist enlightenment.
Drukpa Kunley, enfant terrible of Buddhist missionaries, seducer of women (including his own mother, but it was for her own good, he argued), famously subdued the female demons of Bhutan with his “flaming thunderbolt.” He exemplified the tantric belief that carnal relations can be the gateway to enlightenment, and was not hesitant to enlighten as many women as possible.
* * *
As we were finishing breakfast the following morning, Karma, the village artist, strolled into our camp with what appeared to be a colorful model airplane.
On closer examination we saw that he had carved a pink-painted phallus as long as my forearm. To the business end of the phallus Karma had added a strip of faded yellow cloth, perhaps an homage to the ubiquitous prayer flags found throughout the country, but more likely representing Anti-Demon Ejaculate. He had also carved a wooden sword, which he nailed at right angles to the phallus, giving the object the approximate look of a handmade, not-quite-completed B-52. Our friend and trekking guide Tashi Namgay explained that while the phallus provides protection the wooden sword “cuts through ignorance, the first step towards wisdom.”
My French wife dubbed it the “Flying Zizi”, using the French slang for the male member.
We took our Flying Zizi to the simple village temple, set in the middle of a paddy field. We quickly located Dorji, a lay monk who doubled as the shrine’s caretaker. He didn’t flinch as we asked him to bless the object.
I asked Tashi, “This will work against all demons?”
“Actually, the really tough demons require something stronger,” Tashi replied, his unwavering patience for our ridiculous questions tempered now with a hint of good-natured sarcasm.
“An extra large phallus, perhaps?”
“No, just the opposite. Naked dancing monks.”
In reply to our perplexed looks Tashi explained that this tiny village, a day’s walk from the nearest road, was the epicenter for other significant phallus-phenomena.
To simplify a complex legend, a group of devotees in Nabji had been trying to build a temple. Each day they would labor in the hot sun, and each night, as the workers slept, the mischievous anti-religious demons would tear down the holy structure. Finally, a monk named Dorje Lingpa led a nocturnal dance of naked men in order to distract the demons. The strategy worked, and eventually, following days of hot work and nights of cold dancing, the temple was built.
On our return to Thailand in May 2010, the people of Bangkok were tensing for a battle between rival Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts. A military intervention seemed certain and just a kilometer away armed soldiers were gathering for a final showdown with the implacable demonstrators.
We carefully unpacked our Flying Zizi and hung it in our Thai garden. “This will work in Bangkok?” I had asked Karma when we had purchased the talisman.
That kind of question may have been a touch too abstract for Karma, a village boy who had never even been to the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu. But the shrug he gave us seemed to say, “can’t hurt.”
And he was right. While central Bangkok burned, life on our little soi continued relatively-undisturbed. The noodle guy in front of our house stayed open, as did the grilled chicken lady, the vegetable seller and the motorcycle taxi-drivers. The cat slept peacefully. I’m not too sure that the sword helped us to cut through ignorance to achieve wisdom, but I’m pretty certain that at least the phallus-fearing demons went elsewhere.
Paul Sochaczewski is an American writer based in Geneva, Switzerland-based. His recent books include the Curious Encounters of the Human Kind series, Share Your Journey, Redheads, Distant Greens, and An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles. For more information on Paul please see: Wikipedia. He can be contacted at his website: www.sochaczewski.com
This article is excerpted from the Himalaya volume of Paul Sochaczewski’s new five-book series Curious Encounters of the Human Kind. Available on Amazon.com