Lecture 3: Stolen Penises  

Imagine losing your penis. Imagine someone – a woman, naturally – stealing your penis. From witches to nuns, women were believed to possess such a power in parts of Early Modern Europe, as attested in the witch hunter’s manual, the Malleus Maleficarum. Before the claims in the Malleus, there was also the phallus-tree, which was part of folklore in Europe (more widespread that the so-called ‘vulva tree’, which we also consider). But the belief has not been erased entirely, as modern accounts of missing members continue to surface, particularly outside of the Anglosphere, most pressingly in developing nations.

For a peak preview of some of the topics we’ll be looking at in this lecture, read Callie Beusman, ‘Witches Allegedly Stole Penises and Kept them as Pets in the Middle Ages’, Vice (September 19, 2016): https://www.vice.com/en/article/mbqjap/witches-allegedly-stole-penises-and-kept-them-as-pets-in-the-middle-ages

You may also be interested in Frank Bures’ ‘A Mind Dismembered: In search of the magical penis thieves’, Harper’s Magazine (June 2008): https://harpers.org/archive/2008/06/a-mind-dismembered/

Image for Lecture = Massa Marittima Fresco, 13th Century Tuscany


Marguerite Johnson is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. She is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality, gender, and the body, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Bodies Behaving Badly – From Vagina Dentata to Wandering Wombs – 6 part Lecture Series

This is the third lecture in a special six-part series, Professor Marguerite Johnson takes us on an uncanny journey across time and space into the wilds of human imagination. Each lecture introduces a particular case study – from vaginas that bite to penises that disappear – and is extensively illustrated along with written accounts of these bodily anomalies. Participants will also receive a reading list for those interested in pursuing the topics in more detail.

Image for Series: Mary Magdalene, 15th century, wood, from Altschwendt, Austria

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