Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Pagan and Christian symbolism
Figure 163 represents a tortoise. When one sees a resemblance between this creature's head and neck and the linga, one can understand why both in India and in Greece the animal should be regarded as sacred to the goddess personifying the female creator, and why in Hindoo myths it is said to support the world.
In the British Museum there are three Assyrian obeliscs, all of which represent, in the most conspicuous way, the phallus, one of which has been apparently circumcised. The body is occupied with an inscription recording the sale of land, and also a figure of the reigning king, whilst upon the part known as the glans penis are a number of symbols, which are intended apparently to designate the generative powers in creation. The male is indicated by a serpent, a spear head, a hare, a tiara, a cock, and a tortoise. The female appears under precisely the same form as is seen on the head of the Egyptian Isis, Fig. 28. The tortoise is to this day a masculine emblem in Japan. See Figs. 174, 175.
But there is no necessity for the animal itself always to be depicted, inasmuch as I have discovered that both in Assyrian and Greek art the tortoise is pourtrayed under the figure which resembles somewhat the markings upon the segments into which the shell is divided. In symbolism it is a very common thing for a part to stand for the whole; thus an egg is made to do duty for the triad; and a man is sometimes represented by a spade. A woman is in like manner represented by a comb, or a mirror; and a golden fleece typifies in the first place the "grove," which it overshadows, and the female who possesses both.
It has been stated on page 19 supra, that Pausanias mentions having seen at some place in Greece one figure of Venus standing on a tortoise, and another upon a ram, but he leaves to the ingenious to discover why the association takes place.
It was this intimation which led me to identify the tortoise as a male symbol. Any person who has ever watched this creature in repose, and seen the action of the head and neck when the quadruped is excited, will recognise why the animal is dear to the goddess of amorous delight, and that which it may remind her of. In like manner, those who are familiar with the ram will know that it is remarkable for persistent and excessive vigour. Like the cat, whose salacity caused it to be honoured in Egypt, the ram was in that country also sacred, as the bull was in Assyria and Hindostan.
In fact, everything which in shape, habits, or sound could remind mankind of the creators and of the first part of creation was regarded with reverence. Thus tall stones or natural pinnacles of rock, the palm, pine, and oak trees, the fig tree and the ivy, with their tripliform leaves, the mandrake, with its strange human form, the thumb and finger, symbolised Bel, Baal, Asher, or Mahadeva. In like manner a hole in the ground, a crevice in a rock, a deep cave, the myrtle from the shape of its leaf, the fish from its scent, the dolphin and the mullet from their names, the dove from its note, and any umbrageous retreat surrounded with thick bushes, were symbolic of woman.
So also the sword and sheath, the arrow and target, the spear and shield, the plough and furrow, the spade and trench, the pillar by a well, the thumb thrust between the two fore-fingers or grasped by the hand, and a host of other things were typical of the union which brings about the formation of a new being.
I cannot help regarding the sexual element as the key which opens almost every lock of symbolism, and however much we may dislike the idea that modern religionists have adopted emblems of an obscene worship, we cannot deny the fact that it is so, and we may hope that with a knowledge of their impurity we shall cease to have a faith based upon a trinity and virgin—a lingam and a yoni. Some may cling still to such a doctrine, but to me it is simply horrible—blasphemous and heathenish.