In Graeco-Roman belief, the god Mercury (Hermes) was thought to have invented masturbation and taught it to his son Faunus (Pan). The Greeks called it thrypsis, “the rubbing,” and in Latin it was known as masturatus.
Mercuralia was the celebration known also as the “Festival of Mercury”. Mercury was thought to be the God of merchants and commerce as well as the patron of masturbation. On 15 May, merchants would sprinkle their heads, bodies, ships, merchandise and businesses with water taken from the well at Porta Capena. But some believe they would sprinkle themselves with another liquid as well.
Obscure sources suggest that although not a part of the public proceedings, men would masturbate in honor of Mercury on this day because of the belief he was the creator of the act and that doing so would bring virility and sexual prowess.
As with other aspects, the Celts were influenced by Roman ways and beliefs after the two cultures began to merge in some areas. Given what we believe of the sexual nature of the Celts and the notion that auto-erotic expression was also likely not thought unseemly to them - it is likely they may have observed Mercuralia after Romanization in similar fashion.
With the fact that May is now known as masturbation month, an auto-erotic experience could seem an appropriate Mercuralia observation nowadays as well…
Image: Pierre et Gilles