This is the best explanation I’ve read attempting to explain ritual genital cutting.
If you’ve time read the whole essay by a Jewish American Nobel Prize winner…
“The Dogon have an extraordinary creation myth. The primal god, Amma, made the Earth from clay in the shape of a woman lying on her back. Then Amma, being lonely, wanted to copulate with her. Her vagina was an ant hill; but beside it was her clitoris, a termite mound. (These characterizations became clearer to me when I ran across a photograph of a field with termite mounds. They are not broad, rounded eminences like ant hills, but tall, slender, phallic columns.)
As Amma approached the Earth to copulate with her, the male element, the termite mound, rose against him. So first he had to destroy it.
Suddenly everything fell into place. The Dogon, like many other African peoples, not in early infancy but at or near puberty, as an initiation rite, circumcise the boys, and excise the girls: the clitoris is cut away, in some tribes along with the labia minora. Up to puberty every Dogon child is thought to be to a degree bisexual, a gynandromorph; and that is acceptable, since it has as yet no serious sexual role to fulfill. But then, in preparation for adulthood, the boys are made altogether male by removing the foreskin, their female member; and the girls are made wholly female by excising the clitoris.
One does not have to improvise this interpretation. The tribal traditions state it plainly. So, speaking of the creation of man: “each human being from the first was endowed with two souls of different sex. In the man the female soul was located in the prepuce; in the woman the male soul was in the clitoris… The dual soul is a danger; a man should be male, a woman female. Circumcision and excision are the remedy.”
I have no doubt that this is the dominant primitive meaning of circumcision and excision: that, androgynous to a degree in infancy, children have their sex roles established unequivocally at or near puberty by removing the foreskin from boys and the clitoris from girls.
These practices are ancient and widespread. They have arisen on every continent. “The bodies of Egyptians exhumed from the earliest prehistoric cemeteries, back of 4000 BC, have disclosed the evidence of circumcision whenever the body is sufficiently well preserved to make the observation possible. The actual performance of the operation by the Egyptian surgeon is depicted in an Egyptian tomb relief of the 27th or 28th Century B.C. in the cemetery of Memphis.” This great Egyptologist believed that the ancient Hebrews, led by Moses, “born in Egypt and bearing an Egyptian name” (Mose = child of, as in the Pharaonic names Ahmose, Thutmose), borrowed from the Egyptians at once the Pharaoh Ikhnaton’s monotheism, the rite of circumcision, and the ban on eating pork. Yet among the ancient Egyptians also, circumcision was a puberty rite, performed at ages six to fourteen.
It is curious that up to relatively modern times, circumcision never set the Jews off from most of the people about them. The custom prevailed not only among the ancient Egyptians, but the Semitic peoples among whom the Jews continued to dwell: Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, Phoenicians. Circumcision tended much more to divide Semites from non-Semites than Jews from others. To the ancient Jews the epitome of the uncircumcised were the Philistines, a non-Semitic sea people, probably from Crete; until the 9th Century B.C. they encountered also the Assyrians, Semites yet uncircumcised.
With the coming of the Prophet, circumcision became universal among Moslems, accompanied in some groups by female excision. It is practiced ritually by numerous people of central and west Africa including the Ethiopians; many Australian aborigines; Malays, Fijians and Samoans; and Indian tribes in North and South America. (I have a fine pre-Columbian stirrup-bottle from the Vicus area in Peru, the spout of which has the form of an erect, circumcised penis.)
The most usual status of circumcision among all these peoples is as an initiation rite, performed at or near puberty, often in direct preparation for mating or marriage. There is some reason to believe that it may have begun that way among the ancient Hebrews. In the Ethiopian (“Coptic”) Christian Church, though boys are circumcised in early infancy, girls are excised at or close to puberty. So far as I know, no other people circumcise as early as the Jews ― on the eighth day ― except for present-day Americans, who owing to the exigencies of hospital practice, are likely to have their infants circumcised on the third or fourth day.“