Day 315: Rude Man

No trip to Wiltshire would be complete without visiting Stonehenge. Located in the south of England on the Salisbury Plain, the site was constructed in several stages from 2,800 to 1,800 BC. In 1740, Dr. William Stuckly studied the site and suggested that it was astronomically aligned. No one living today knows for certain the purpose of its construction. The site has some unique features that have been studied at least since the Middle Ages. The large stones in the outer ring interlock with the stones on top. The bluestones that make up the inner ring were transported all the way from Wales. Scientists and historians have proposed a variety of possible functions for Stonehenge in the ancient world, including religious and astronomical ones. Laetitia and her group did a hike nearby while they waited for their turn to enter the site. Once they were escorted to Stonehenge, they found it awe-inspiring.

After their turn, Laetitia chatted with a local Blue Badge Guide named Marsha. When Marsha learned that Laetitia had been to Dorset but had not been to Cerne Abbas to see the Rude Man, she told Laetitia that it was a “must see.” So after shepherds’ pie at a local pub, the group headed for Cerne Abbas.  The picturesque community, now inhabited by about 800 souls, was once home to Cerne Abbey. Its Benedictine culture dominated the area for more than 800 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538.

However, the area’s best-known tourist attraction is the Cerne Abbas Giant, or Rude Man, a geoglyph about 180 feet tall carved into a Dorset hillside. The figure outline is made from trenches in the turf filled with white chalk, an abundant material in England. A number of such figures, depicting both humans and animals, grace the English countryside. The Rude Man is somewhat unusual in that he is carrying a club and sporting an enormous erection.

The earliest record of the Rude Man is from the seventeenth century, but its origin and its artist’s intent remain mysterious. Whatever its original significance, it a now a central feature of the area’s popular culture, often appearing in films, television shows, and publicity stunts. Local folklore holds that a woman can become fecund by sleeping nearby, and that sexual intercourse atop the figure is a sure cure for infertility.

After a walkabout in Cerne Abbas, Laetitia took her group to view the figure, both from a distance and up close. The visit provoked a great deal of banter among her guests, some of it bawdy, about the power of the figure as a fertility symbol as opposed to some other symbols of fecundity like the Easter (Oestre) Bunny, the Easter egg, the frog, the cat, or the turtle. Laetitia was off in her own world while this discussion was going on.  She wondered if artist Aubrey Beardsley visited here before he illustrated Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.  His pictures shocked and titillated his Victorian contemporaries with its gargantuan depictions of male genitalia. Her consciousness returned to the discussion just in time for a limerick to pop into her head.

If fecundity is a hurdle
Those cultures that offer a turtle
Can’t be as reliant
As Cerne Abbas’ Giant
For women who wish to be fertile.