I read the Malleus Maleficarum in college in my Performativity of Witchcraft course. Yes, that course really existed at NYU, and it was fascinating. It was commonplace in Europe in the 15th and 16th century to blame witches for many things, including stealing male genitalia and hiding them in birds’ nests. I read this as a metaphor, of course, for sex and female power. I never believed that that penises could actually be stolen.
However, according to Louisa Lombard of Pacific Standard, genital snatching is a crime on the rise in Central Africa. When traveling through the small town of Tiringoulou in 2010, Lombard encountered men afraid to so much as shake her hand because of two instances of penis snatching. I’m sure you’re wondering, as I was, how a penis can be snatched right out of a man’s pants.
“As best I could reconstruct from witness accounts, [a Sudanese man] had stopped to purchase a cup of tea at the market. After handing over his money, he clasped the vendor’s hand. The tea seller felt an electric tingling course through his body and immediately sensed that his penis had shrunk to a size smaller than that of a baby’s … As for the men whose penises were stolen, several eyewitnesses assured me that the appendages did indeed shrink dramatically. I can’t offer such an intimate eyewitness account myself, but I did visit one of the men at his home, and he clearly seemed to be suffering. He lay propped on one elbow, slack and listless in loose sweatpants.”
Barring asking the man to take off his pants, she had no way to verify the claim that his penis had been stolen. But according to experts who study the phenomenon, this is a very real crime across West and Central Africa — one that’s been on the rise over the past two decades. Anthropologists attribute this to the the resurgence of witchcraft, the disparity in wealth in the global economy and a lucrative black market organ trade.
I can understand kidneys. But penises? How are they used? Monetized?
“The stolen organs, my companions said, are sold to occult healers for use in ceremonies, or else they are quickly fenced back to victims of penis snatching for a price. But the real money was to be made in Europe. One man who had spent some time living in Cameroon said he had heard of a woman there who was nabbed by airport security while trying to smuggle several penises to the Continent inside a baguette.”
So, penises are literally being used as magic wands. That’s a terrifying thought. Almost as terrifying as a bunch of penises stuffed in a baguette.
When Lombard asked the town doctor to share his thoughts on genital snatching, he said, “Western medicine is no match for this magic. It is a mysterious thing.” [Alternet]