Phallicism and phallic worship have existed in virtually all civilizations and all cultures as far back as we can trace. In general, phallic worship has been related to the importance of fertility to peoples whose lives depended upon either food-raising (crops and livestock breeding) or food-gathering, and, of course the birth of children in sufficient numbers to maintain the family in the face of disease, famine, and other imponderable threats of nature.

Historically, according to Philip Rawson, “evil spirits could be repelled by both men and women exposing their genitals to them” 1• This relates closely to the Thai belief that malevolent spirits are repelled by the sight of sexual or ‘immoral’ objects. Further along, Rawson adds that there is “the extraordinarily widely diffused custom of wearing sexual, but especially phallic, amulets”. He notes that these amulets may be of various shapes and sizes, and continues “[they] were conceived to carry great power for good, averting disease, the evil eye, and all other supernatural disasters”. However, the Thai custom of wearing phallic amulets around the waist seems to be unique and, as far as I have been able to discover, is matched nowhere else in Asia, with the possible exception of Laos

The palad khik , though defined as a Buddhist amulet by the Thais, is never worn above the waist because, being of a sexual nature, it is considered somewhat base. Thus it is not worn around the neck, a part of the body commanding a much higher degree of respect, and which is reserved for more revered amulets.

What is the origin of this custom?  It appears, that the custom derived originally from Shiva worship, and the palad khik are closely related to the lingam of that Hindu God. Shiva worship and lingam were widespread throughout all of southeast and east Asia. In fact, the phallic object known as ai khik (mo;n) or palad khik has also been termed {erroneously) by some young Thai men as ‘Shiva lung’ (or lingam of Shiva).

According to one Thai scholar  palad means ‘honored deputy’ or ‘honored substitute’, whereas khik means ‘penis’ or ‘phallus’. Other definitions of these terms also exist. ,The term ‘Shiva lung’ is not applicable, for it really refers to the large phalluses, usually wooden, used in various forms of spirit worship in Thailand: in shrines by khlong, by the oceanside and rivers to propitiate water spirits, and in field shrines to encourage fertility and a rich harvest.

The lingam of Shiva resembles a human phallus only slightly, being little more than a pole with a rounded end, with no clearly defined glans. Moreover, many large stone lingam of one meter tall or more have been reported to be scattered throughout southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, where they have symbolized royal sovereignty over important cities and towns.

The original form of the palad khik is extremely simple: nothing but an erect penis with the glans (tip) well defined, with a slit or bole indicating the meatus, having no testicles. It can be made of virtually any substance: stone, wood, plaster, elephant bone, ivory, bronze, etc. Thais sometimes have small examples made of gold, and string them around the waist of a son on gold chains.

A magic formula (katha) is generally inscribed in Old Cambodian language. The inscription gives the palad khik, after being blessed by the monk, added efficacy, though a palad khik need not necessarily have the katha to be considered protective. There are several reasons for the use of Old Cambodian: the value of its mystic quality, and the fact that Pali, the language of the Thai Buddhist canon, does not have its own writing system but must be rendered in some other script.

The original purpose to wearing palad khik was very simple, as quoted earlier, to protect against objects that might penetrate the body and injure or kill. Another explanation of their purpose which appears to be equally important also serves a protective function, namely to divert the attack of any vicious spirit intent upon striking at a boy-child’s genitalia and damaging his virility or potency. Hence the interpretation of palad as ‘honorable deputy’ or ‘surrogate’. That also explains why the palad khik is worn under tbe clothes on a string at one side of the body, thus some distance from the organs of generation.

In principle, the palad khik is supposed to be removed by the boy-child when be reaches puberty. In practice, however, it frequently continues to be worn by young men and even by men well along in years . The current belief held by many educated, urban Thais is that the wearing of the palad khik is a village practice which is rapidly disappearing, and is certainly not to be found in the cities, is incorrect. Not only does the practice persist, but it flourishes.

The original, basic palad khik has taken on many more functions than merely protection, and has evolved into numerous  forms, verging toward becoming a folk art. For example, many men carry small palad khik on their key chains, as good-luck charms.

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