It might not be entirely shocking that a gay man would learn of his love of dick while on a trip to San Francisco. The city is, after all, a famous queer enclave.
But when Francis Cassidy visited the city in 1979, the young gay Montrealer discovered a group of gay men who not only appreciated penises, they actually gathered regularly to worship them. In the late 70s, he placed an ad in the The Advocate in search of other men who craved cock.
When Cassidy, then starting his career as a social worker, first encountered the Temple Priapus, he learned that they weren't just all about dicks. "They were doing important community outreach, like helping homeless gay youth," he told VICE. "They were very effective in that."
But the San Francisco chapter didn't last, and Cassidy was inspired to start a Montreal chapter. Since initiating the Temple and giving it a home in his basement, Cassidy has travelled to other cities to march in Pride parades, and has helped others establish their own chapters. He is now the high priest of the international Temple, which has hundreds of members worldwide.
Now 72 and retired, Cassidy says the philosophy of the Temple is really very basic, stressing a connection between sexuality and spirituality. Having been brought up in a strict Catholic household in Quebec, he says he wasn't always sure how to connect with others who felt the same way he did. The friendships he has made in the Temple have brought him a great sense of meaning and connection.
The Temple borrows from many different faiths. "We trace much of our phallus worship back to traditions in India. Most of our members here are former Catholics, so that makes for different reference points." The group's namesake, Priapus himself, was a Greek god of fertility, son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, who "personified male procreative power," according to the Temple's web site.
From the 2018 perspective—and in light of the #metoo movement—worshipping dicks might seem somewhat antiquated. Not to mention a bit, you know, phallocentric and exclusionary. “We are about phallus worship, but there are other faiths that would include worship of women, and I have no problem with that. There have been heterosexual married couples who joined certain chapters of Priapus, but it is rare.”
When Cassidy launched the Temple in 1979, it was just he and two other members. Now he says there are about 20 in the group, with five or six hardcore members showing up for each monthly meeting.
His basement Temple boasts a giant cock sculpture (made by the late famous gay artist Peter Flinsch) and is decorated with what is perhaps best described as penis paraphernalia. There are candle holders, statues and cups, and of course photos and paintings of cocks. All in the cozy basement of a home in the rather whitebread Montreal suburb of NDG.
The Temple's penis-themed prayer includes the following words of worship: "I believe in You, beautiful Phallus, in your strength and your power, in your ability to bring ecstasy, when being sucked, licked, suckled or masturbated, all together. You offer me stiffness, beauty, the energy and your immaculate cum." The church also rejects all member prejudice, their basic belief being that all cocks are equal: "I believe in the equality of all cocks… black or white… large or small, without discrimination." The prayer also expresses a belief in "masturbating with fervor and piety. It is my way of praying and god loves to be glorified."A typical service, in which members gather to worship, means every member must remove all of their clothes, except the high priest (Cassidy, who wears a robe). A poem or hymn about Priapus or the cock is recited. Then members greet one another by grabbing each other's cocks and balls and then exchanging kisses. There is more reading and a sermon. A basket is passed around, much like in many churches, where people can make financial contributions to the running of the temple. The ceremony culminates with a "carnal communion," wherein "members give of their cum."
In order to join, one has to go through a screening process (this isn't just a society for cocksucking riffraff). "It's important for us that members feel safe, and that people are joining for spiritual reasons, not just sexual ones,” says Cassidy. “We are about connecting our spiritual selves, our meaning as people, to our phalluses."
While religious freedom is established in our constitution, it's hard not to think this all sounds suspiciously like an excuse for an orgy. "Actually, an orgy is an old term for a sacred spiritual get together," Cassidy points out. But he also stresses that "this really has to be spiritual, not just sexual. If people just want that, they can go to the bathhouse instead. If you're here only for sex, you're in the wrong place."
And the Temple Priapus does have standards. Its rules of order prohibit "overt drunkenness, fighting, hard drugs, disrespect for the High Priest or his designate, anal intercourse without a condom or the wearing of clothes." (Additional rules can and will be set by the "Board of Phallic Advisors.")
Cassidy believes that the Temple Priapus is a perfect fit for Montreal's laissez-faire culture and attitude. "To us, the cock is a path to truth and divine happiness. Everyone has a different path—this is ours."
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.